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The Influencers

The Death of Online Advertising

INFLUENCER: What happens when big data, a social platform and a smart consumer walk into a bar?

The Death of Online Advertising

Online advertising used to be every marketer’s VIP ticket to talk to a consumer on the internet, back when computers were handcuffed to walls by Ethernet cords and mobile phones had push-button keyboards and weighed approximately 17 lbs. But think about it – it wasn’t ever really a meaningful conversation, or even a pleasant greeting. It was more akin to walking down Canal Street and being verbally assaulted by vendors trying to get you to buy knockoff Chanel bags and Yeezys. We used the same strategy we were using for TV to force ads down our consumers' throats. But as the world of the internet continued to evolve, that style messaging began to really lose its effectiveness. 

Low and behold, we started getting smarter. Enter BIG DATA (side note: can you even say BIG DATA without it being all caps? I think not). We began learning more about these online consumers, who they are and what they do and, more importantly, what they spend their hard-earned dollars on. Tons and tons of data opened up the doors to online ads that could now be targeted, segmented, and personalised – making the message extremely relevant to the consumer seeing it. It allowed us to reframe those ads I referenced earlier – the ones where we were quite literally harassing people – to be more in line with messages that people wanted to see and read, and occasionally, interact with.

We’ve evolved tremendously since the early days of online advertising, even more rapidly in the last six years. Things like BIG DATA, the deprecation of Flash, and the continuously increasing mobile device audience, have completely shifted our approach to advertising on the internet. But the world of advertising is different now, not just online. Consumers don’t just expect – they demand – purposeful messaging that is less about advertising and more about a relevant conversation. 

Let’s repeat that: Consumers are looking for a conversation. What does that mean for online advertising? The technology has evolved, and the amount of data is continuing to increase, but are we really going to force the screaming man on Canal Street to chill back and have a conversation? 

Bill Clinton said it best. "The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change." Online advertising as we know it is a dying medium, and it’s losing significance with our biggest investors - consumers. The world of in-your-face display ads is being replaced by in-app, on-brand, contextually spot-on advertising that is so in line with the user experience of its encompassing environment that consumers don’t even mind that it’s an ad. Social media platforms in particular have allowed marketers to perfect this creatively-driven, highly engaged with, and often coveted, source of online advertising. 

And guess what? Consumers LOVE IT. Social media has given us as marketers the amazing ability to sell without selling. I am a weekly (if not more frequent) personal victim to an Instagram ad purchase, or an influencer promoted purchase. Why is that? Because you’re having a conversation with consumers in their space, on their terms. 

I’ve outlined a couple key things to focus on when thinking of transitioning your traditional online ads into conversational digital advertising: 


Lean into the platforms

Today’s consumer is tech-savvy. They understand how algorithms work. They care what content they see within their social sphere, and they understand how to manipulate that. A like or a comment on a promoted post will give them more similar content. This is mainstream knowledge. Leverage that knowledge, and align your social advertising and targeting strategies with consumer focused like-minded brands and content. 


Interactions not impressions

Focus your efforts on content that inspires your consumers to interact with your brand. Gone are the days of viewing record breaking impressions as a huge win. The stats you need to focus on are the ones where consumers are actually engaging with your content. Your reach expands tremendously with each of those interactions – which could be considered free advertising!


Be smart

The tools exist. The data is there, and the amount of information is only continuing to grow. Spend the money to use those tools and the data to make smart (and legal), purposeful content that directly, or even better, uniquely, speaks to your consumers. They crave it – and it WILL 👏 BE 👏 WORTH 👏 IT 👏.



Leslie Scott is associate director, creative technology, EP+Co

Genre: Strategy/Insight