There are many insightful points in Matt Creamer’s essay in Advertising Age, “Think Different: Maybe the Web’s Not a Place to Stick Your Ads. As the title suggests, he uses Apple as an example of a company that, relative to its overall advertising spending, devotes only a small fraction of its marketing budget to “advertising” online. (As I’ve pointed out, when they do advertise online, they do it well.) Notes, Creamer, Apple doesn’t suffer from a lack of exposure online, however. Indeed, in many cases, the sites on which it would advertise have far less traffic than Apple web properties attract.
The article can be summed up with this quote from Jakob Nielsen: “”The basic point about the web is that it is not an advertising medium. The web is not a selling medium; it is a buying medium. It is user-controlled, so the user controls, the user experiences.” (Presumably, Matt’s essay is focused on non-search advertising as that is online advertising that is controlled by users.)
This…is a call to give some thought to a question that’s not asked enough about the Internet: Should it even be viewed as an ad medium? After all, in some quarters of the broader marketing world, the habit of looking at advertising as the most important tool in the marketers’ toolbox is undergoing intense interrogation. Consider the growth of the word-of-mouth marketing business, premised on the notion that people not corporations who help other people make consumer decisions. Or look at the growing importance put on public relations and customer-relationship management both in marketing circles and even in the c-suite. The same conversation should be going on around the Internet. Trends like those listed suggest the possibility of a post-advertising age, a not-too-distant future where consumers will no longer be treated as subjects to be brainwashed with endless repetitions of whatever messaging some focus group liked. That world isn’t about hidden persuasion, but about transparency and dialogue and at its center is that supreme force of consumer empowerment, the Internet.
That I liked Matt’s essay should come as no surprise: It echoes what The Cluetrain Manifesto clearly articulated and foresaw nearly ten years ago. Maybe after another decade or so of hearing this repeated, the men and women who are responsible for marketing (and advertising) budgets will finally figure out that what the web enables is more powerful than advertising. Indeed, it will likely prove to be the most powerful marketing platform ever conceived — as long as you realize that it’s not a place to merely stick advertising. It’s a buying medium, not a selling medium.