The ROI of Print, Ad Blockers, Facebook & the Art of Ad Wars
We are now deep into a relatively new and unresolved media phenomenon. I think it's fair to call it the "21st Century Ad Wars." There are four armies or protagonists in this war. They are the publisher, the advertiser, the ad blockers and, of course, "the mark." Oh no, I mean the coveted consumer.
The two most important factions in the battle for revenue romance are the advertisers who have the product for sale and the consumer who has the money and might want the product. The publisher is there to act as a conduit between the two primary flirters. The ad blockers have recently come on the scene with the proposed not-always-honest intention to protect the consumer. As Shakespeare said prophetically about the digital process, "what a tangled web we weave."
All was well in hand in the analog print days of yore until the web arrived and sales and advertising in printed products went south. So the publishers, eager to reclaim lost revenue introduced new paths of monetary rewards and created along the way ever increasing intrusive and self-destructive projects that eventually broke the bond of trust with the reading public. That trust on the web is now long gone for most. Did all advertisers and publishers take the low road? Absolutely not. But enough web practitioners did completely dirty the waters for all. Swimming with the sharks isn't always a pleasant experience, and you quickly learn not to trust anything swimming nearby.
The advertisers and the publishers abused their privileged position and actually started to think of the consumer as a mark, there to be taken advantage of in every conceivable way possible. Unwanted tracking, bloated advertising destroying the digital experience, and a general overarching abuse of the developing channels of communication. You might as well add to that mix the volatile hidden inclusion of downloading malware willingly or not into the public and consumer domain.
So what does the industry do? Well, Facebook has devised a path to attempt to beat the ad blockers at their game. This is, of course, a temporary fix as the blockers will come up with another "gadget" to help the public, and the ad war will continue.
I see this as an unwinnable technological trench war with one and only one path to digital peace in our time. The solution is for content to be worth paying for. Here is my question. Is your content worth the consumer paying for its full and fair value? If not, why not? Did I hear you say they won't pay enough for it and that you have to subsidize it with advertising? Yes, that was the path of the past and in an analog world was accepted by all -- the publisher, the advertiser, and the mark. That is one of the reasons that print is still the best ROI. The rules are fully understood by all, and the ads aren't bloated and ready to explode upon command.
Here is the thing -- and this comes from a long-time-and-still-practicing digital futurist who still sees digital as the predominant way people are and will be reading -- digital is succeeding in grabbing much of our attention and eventually digital advertising will probably succeed, too. But that success won't take away from the experience of reading print.
The haptic or touch experience between print and digital is mainly a different feel, a different sensation and, perhaps above all else, a completely different expectation. Print doesn't offer distractions other than the words and thinking on the page, while the digital experience intends to and does offer distractions galore. I think a case can be made that reading on the web requires a modern kind of discipline to actually finish the article you started to read, whereas in print there is no place else to go but finish what you picked up to read. I'm not saying that just because we read a printed product we always finish it. In many cases we don't. That is also demonstrably true for the digital experience, only more so.
With all that being said, we are now entering a new phase in the ad wars. Facebook has constructed a digital tank to blast ads through the ad blocking barbed wire of the content trenches. I suppose next will be ad blocking bazookas to blast the digital permitting tanks into submission. You see what I mean? It's a game of revenue yards -- you push one way for a few feet and I push back a few feet even harder.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.