The Real Problem With Display Advertising

John Wanamaker (1838–1922) was an American department store owner as well as a religious, civic and political figure. He is widely considered to have been a merchandising genius and was also a pioneering proponent of the power of advertising. Wanamaker is credited with originating the then-revolutionary principle of “One price and goods returnable” as far back as the 1860s. Something else Mr Wanamaker said is on the verge of becoming a cliche but that doesn’t change the fact that it is amazingly relevant to the shift from traditional to digital marketing. This transition has completely transformed the industry since the first AdWords customer-generated text ad for “live mail order lobsters” appeared in the autumn of 2000.

Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” To a large extent, this dilemma remained true for the next 140 years. The widely-promoted killer app of digital marketing is that spend is entirely measurable and that finally, advertisers not only know which half they are wasting but are also able to know this day by day and hour by hour. This works particularly well for text ads on the search results page. The obvious reason for this is that ads are sparked by searches with consumer intent. This was and is remarkable because the customer determines which ads will show. Because the consumer largely dictates content, sales are more numerous and frequent. All this is well and good.

But this measurability revolution has come at a cost in that it fundamentally alters advertiser expectations. Although the logic was flawed, advertisers with high ROI search network campaigns began to demand that brand awareness advertising campaigns on display networks start paying their dues in a way that billboards on the highway never could. In traditional advertising, brand awareness was almost never about directly attributable and immediate sales. It was part of a long game involving expanding market share and creating customer loyalty over the long term. This notion got somewhat lost in digital because now that advertisers knew exactly where, when and how 100% of their money was being spent on display networks, they felt the loss more acutely and grew reluctant to spend their budgets without generating sales.

It should come as no surprise that Google has come at the problem with the full force of their financial and intellectual bandwidth. A range of machine learning solutions are now available in beta to marketers looking to up the quantitative ante on Display. The ‘Pay for Conversions’ option on the GDN comes with the very credible value proposition that “you never pay more than your CPA.” Also available is ‘TrueView for action’ which will allow advertisers to capture leads on YouTube campaigns. And it doesn’t stop there. ‘Smart Bidding for Store Visits’ on Display will kick off with target Cost-per-Visit bidding and ‘Maximize Conversions’ is a new Display Smart Bidding strategy that automatically sets bids to drive as much conversion volume as possible within any campaign’s budget. John Wanamaker would be extraordinarily excited about all this. Technology has an uncanny ability to bootstrap itself ahead of human expectations. I don’t think that Google Hair for baldness is far off.

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