Monday, March 23, 2009

Why We Need To Start Monetizing An Impression's Depth And Not Its Breadth

If you haven't yet read Bob Garfield's article that's running in Advertising Age this week, do so now.

It explains quite colorfully why we need to start monetizing an impression's depth and not its breadth. Reach and frequency, for 50 years, the main source of revenue for the ad industry, are basically as underwater as most mortgage companies.

And, since it's fairly certain that a government stimulus package won't be coming advertising's way any time soon, it's up to us to figure out how to get out of this mess.

Change, no matter how minor, is difficult. But a minor change is usually seen as being more doable than a major change. So, instead of throwing in the towel and starting from scratch, what if we just start to look a little differently at what we're all already comfortable with?

Impressions.

We're all familiar with impressions. We're comfortable with them. Imperfect as they are, they're like family. So, we accept them. Yes, they're fragmenting as fast as all get-out but, hey, do we really need to discard them completely and find something else to love?

What if we just started to look at them a little differently?

Instead of thinking about impressions from a quantitative perspective, what if we looked at them from a qualitative perspective? In other words, instead of thinking of impressions in term of how many, what if we started thinking of an impression in terms of how long?

Instead of worrying about the breadth, or the number of impressions that we buy, what if we shift our focus to the depth of each individual impression?

Mr. Garfield, who, of course, is pushing his "Chaos Scenario," implies that this is impossible. As he so colorfully puts it, "Any hope for a seamless transition—or any transition at all—from mass media and marketing to micro media and marketing are absurd. The sky is falling, the frog in the pot has come to a boil and, oh yeah, we are, most of us, exquisitely, irretrievably fucked."

Well, maybe.

And, then again, maybe not.

The one thing we know about the web is that people spend a lot, I mean, a whole lot of time, up to 30% of their time, on it. The amount of time that each individual spends is important because there is only so much time in a day, 24 hours, last I checked.

In other words, time is finite.

That said, the number of choices one has to spend their time with online is infinite. That's Garfield's whole point. As he put it, "Mass media thrived on the economics of scarcity. The internet represents an economy of unending abundance."

Bingo!

To get back to what works, we need to find, and monetize, what is scarce and/or finite, not what is infinite.

And, what is finite, is time.

The more time a consumer spends with one brand's advertising, the less time that consumer has to spend with the competitor's brand advertising. This is why how long somebody spends with a commercial becomes of value to an advertiser.

And, in the long run, more valuable than how many are exposed to a brand's advertising.

Seconds spent, not eyeballs reached, becomes the new holy grail.

And the beauty of it all is that we're still dealing in the same currency—impressions—that is the foundation on which the advertising industry stands. It's not like we're trading in dollars for rubles.

Yes, impressions are becoming fewer. But, that said, there exists the opportunity to make them deeper. To switch our focus to building relationships rather than reach.

Success in the digital marketplace is going to depend on how well advertisers can transition their business models to be compatible with the new digital realities.

Fragmentation is a digital reality.

The unmassing of the mass media is a digital reality.

Niche audiences are a digital reality.

Time spent on line is a digital reality.

View duration data, i.e. time spent measuremt, is a digital reality.

It's time we start looking at reality.

Mr. Garfield has called it "apocalyptic."

Well, maybe.

And, then again, maybe not.

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