The Marketing Problem Is Simple: There Are Too Many Ads

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As a brand, do you find it hard to put your message in front of the right audience?

This used to be the major challenge. The entire construct of the advertising industry was built on the scarcity model. There was only a finite number of pages in the newspaper allotted to advertising. There were only so many commercial breaks during some of prime time’s biggest TV shows, and if you didn’t get your spot on the local radio morning program, they were only on air for a brief time because traffic only lasts for a couple of hours if you want that captive audience. The fact is that our definition of "captive audience" has shifted and morphed significantly since the popularization of the Internet. Do consumers visit just one site that they’re loyal too (i.e. the old portal model of Yahoo, AOL, etc…) or do they visit multiple sites in a more chaotic fashion across multiple devices (computer screen, tablet, smartphone, etc…)?

Putting your ads everywhere.

In a new world where one Web page can house multiple ads or where one significant article can be laid out on multiple Web pages (to generate more pageviews and, hence, more ad impressions), the scarcity model begins to fall apart. If your brand can post your commercial to YouTube and generate tens of millions of views (which is common for ads that are remarkable) for free, what does that say when you have to do a media buy with a guarantee that you will generate fewer impressions? Do brands still feel that they struggle to get their message in front of consumers? The answer is: yes. But, they feel this way not because it’s expensive to advertise or because there is a lack of substantive places to put those ads. They feel this way because it’s hard to make a message standout in such a crowded environment.

Don’t kid yourself: the environment is getting more and more crowded.

One of the things I loved about Google AdWords happened with the advent of AdSense. The ability for a blog (or website or whatever) to have targeted advertising run on sites that were more relevant than random run of network, generic, advertising sounded promising. For some, this has worked magically and other still struggle with it. Beyond the politics and business of Google, the untethering of their advertising model and creation of a veritable advertising network was impressive. Google didn’t invent the advertising network and many other media companies have jumped on that train and turned it into a significant business in the online spaces.

Is this the plan for Facebook?

On July 15th, 2012, Business Insider ran a new item titled, This Diagram Explains Facebook’s Next $10 Billion Business. From the article: "Our source says Facebook’s next $10 billion business (which would be its first)… will sell ad inventory on third-party sites and target it using its own data AND third-party data. Our source calls this business ‘FaceSense’ because it will compete with Google’s ad network, Ad Sense. Ad Sense does about $2.5 billion in revenue per quarter; hence our source’s $10 billion figure."  It does feel right, doesn’t it? If Facebook can promise to deliver more relevant and contextual advertising to other publishers based on their data and additional third-party analytics, who wouldn’t bite at the opportunity.

The problem is that we’re only talking about advertising.

The media companies are going to pounce on this. As will most brands and publishers. They’ll be excited by the targeting and re-targeting capabilities, but all of these bright and shiny objects will obscure the bigger opportunity: it’s not about the advertising… it’s about the marketing. I don’t believe that brands need more places to put their ads. I do believe that Facebook has amazing capabilities to help brands connect – in a deeper and more profound way – with their consumers. A Facebook ad exchange seems like a smart enough cash grab, but I’m hopeful that they will soon evolve into thinking about what the social graph means to people and how they can better connect to the companies that they care about. If, in the end, the only money that Facebook makes is from taking their data and helping brands better target ads on other media properties, something tells me that the majority of users will continue to do what they’ve done to date: ignore online advertising because there’s a lot of it and it’s everywhere. Don’t confuse what I’m saying here: smart brands are doing great things with targeting, awareness and drilling down to better understand where their consumers are playing, but blasting a message in front of that experience is only a small slice of a much bigger pie.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Do you think this is Facebook’s future?


  1. I wish there were clearer, more reliable stats RE: how many people use an ad blocker in their browser. We people who do use it tend to assume that everyone else does, but the real figures probably vary widely by demographic.
    I can only assume their use is becoming more popular, so I have to wonder how long these “forced” ads can last. Right now the only ads I see online are those I *want* to see – will that ever be the standard? If it is, Facebook might be joining the party just as the house is about to collapse.

  2. The Canadian advertising industry, of which I am a part of, is starting to see the potential of the entire social-powered digital ecosystem and that includes using paid media to support/recruit/amplify the digital experience that’s being created. There’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of silos to bust, but the truly innovative won’t let the old battle lines stand in the way.
    It’s up to the industry to evolve with Facebook and create something truly new and cross-discipline that helps brands “connect” vs helps brands get exposure for a piece of ad creative.
    I think we’re getting closer.

  3. The gig is up. We/consumers understand why we want to buy toothpaste that makes are teeth more white. However we also have information that fluoride is a poison that we continue to add to our water and toothpaste. So we buy toothpaste that does not include these ingredients. We understand the ad we saw watching our favourite show shared that story with us. We also get that if I notice my teeth our yellow and I want to research my options online I can come up with a solution. So Ads can start our research on a topic but we definitely do not believe everything we hear or read like our parents generation. They actually believe that brands care about them vs. $$$$$$$. We know this is not TRUE! So it’s up to Brands to care and earn our trust. Can’t take a pill or shortcut but actually have a genuine relationship with us. WOW a major change. Can they do it? Will they apply the effort to do it? The jury is out and everything is riding. Stay tuned.

  4. I would be happier if “facesense” was not the future of Facebook. If you assume that advertising was the one way to get yourself known to potential customers when there was no other communication way than mass communication, and when économies of scale were the main compétitive weapon, then, today, engaging your customers and building the future with them should not need advertising. But that is still science fiction probably

  5. Agree wholeheartedly with David Jones. The “ad industry” needs to come up with a whole new model. Advertising will become a progressively smaller component of how companies build brands. We need to find ways to deliver useful and entertaining information about products and make the information easy to find. Social media, mobile and dynamic websites will play starring roles – not “advertising”.
    We have created a web site where users can showcase examples of innovative and integrated brand communications. We hope this initiative helps the industry learn from the best.

  6. Nice summary of the situation and pertinent questions, as usual Mitch.
    The cliché of how fast things are evolving, however, is more true than ever.
    Smartphone handsets and tablets are taking real-time mobile front and centre as the primary way people are connecting to digital.
    We are still so new to this marketing arm, and the challenges it presents, that predictions on the future are difficult to make.
    One thing remains true though: Internet is founded on the concept that one can locate any device automatically in real time.
    If you can locate any device, this also means you can locate anyone….
    From this perspective, Adsense, or some sort of “FaceSense,” are not the future, but, rather, stepping stones along the path where Google, FB (and even Amazon) should be recognized as building primarily an “identity service” for future products that leverage that information.
    Eric Schmidt stated this outright last year at the Edinburgh Intl TV Festival
    Read about it on Forbes here:

  7. I would think as a marketer you would want to move your prospect off the hoist platform. To reiterate your comment, there is too much advertising competing for a short attention span. As such, wouldn’t you want to move your prospect from a noisy content platform to the peace and quiet of your website – where you can inform and engage? Facebook, and other such social media are just a getting-to-know you meetup place. To really do “business” you need to move off-platform. So, is it really any more than a prospecting tool? Adsense and Adwords have never been anything more than targeted prospecting tools, and that’s kinda how I see Facebook pages.

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