The Web’s Brand Crisis.

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One of the best definitions I’ve heard for the term “brand” is “the premium a customer will pay for a product over its generic alternative.”  Simple, straightforward, measurable.   If we apply this standard to our world – where the product is online advertising and the customer is the marketer – then we have to admit our brand is in pretty awful shape.  In fact, the television brand would seem to be kicking our collective ass right now.

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Advertising Age just reported that this upfront could see a double digit increase in spending.  We digital folk love to ridicule the upfronts and call out the fallacy of marketers paying ever more for a TV audience the gets smaller every season.   But the truth is that they do pay more, and they do so willingly and with their eyes wide open.  Why?  The answer – I think – is in the brand halo that TV has created for itself in the eyes of the customer.  TV has come to stand for creativity, glamor, luxury, the sense of feeling important as a buyer.  Even though most of the new shows will fail within weeks, the TV brand still stands for fresh product, new ideas, a clean roster of actors who all look better than we do.  Even though we can rationalize that it’s the most traditional of media buys, TV has come to symbolize a better future to the marketer – a promotion, a chance to align with a hit show, a moment of satisfaction when your neighbor says he saw your spot on CSI: Miami last night.

It’s the ultimate irony that digital marketing – which is completely transformative in nature and application – labors under a brand that has become rather sad and incremental.  We have only ourselves to blame.  In contrast to the glitz and promise of television, we’ve come to look about as sexy as your Aunt Mimi clipping coupons and alerting you that there’s an extra $2 off on the big box of Friskies.  Last week Kendall Allen wrote about our “Math State.” But I would argue we don’t even talk about the exciting branches of math:  we focus almost exclusively on subtraction and division, instead of talking about how we are going to multiply the value of the advertising dollar or add value to the end product.

Is any of this fair or rational?  No.  But who says that’s the way the world works anyway?  Truth is that all the tools are at our disposal, the consumers have made what we do a core part of their everyday lives.  But until we quiet the din of confusing tech talk, still the chatter of all those amazing quants and begin connecting online advertising directly to a better future for the marketer, we will continue to be the harmless geek who studies for the tests.  The marketers may ask us if they can copy our papers, but they’re not going to fall in love with us.

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