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What Happened
to Advertising? A Look Back.

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What Happened
to Advertising? A Look Back.

109542125_9a8ff042ab_mWhat’s Different About Advertising since the Internet?

With all its strengths, the Internet certainly presents great challenges to advertisers. One of the more promising capabilities of the Internet is to deliver personalized, individual messages to a large number of people, combining reach and targeting — a notion that to older ways of thinking may seem like an oxymoron… you know, like “act natural.”

To combine the best practices from the traditions of direct marketing with the most effective marketing automation tools available today and the most promising methods driving us into the future — this is the marketing challenge presented by the Internet. And, like with most inspiring challenges in this world, the best solutions are not always the most obvious.

Advertising as we’ve known it has changed. Profoundly. It’s no longer the domain of those of us on the advertising side of the fence. Internet marketing is driven by consumers. What follows here is an outline of the significant differences in the state of advertising since the onset of the Internet.



In the past, and in the case of most forms of traditional advertising, the primary method for grabbing a consumer’s attention is to interrupt, disrupt, irritate, cajole, and basically stop the otherwise natural flow of someone’s attention by interjecting an effective distraction. “We pause now for this commercial break…”

Successful Internet advertising on the other hand is predicated on positioning a message in the proper context in a supplemental manner, and presenting an inviting, curious or valuable proposition. This is why contextualized content integration, content syndication models, and affiliate program are so much more profitable than broad banner buys. This is also why companies who capture permission to dialog with consumers not quite ready to conduct a transaction with their company command higher valuations by analysts, partners and vendors.



Traditional brand positioning requires elements of saliency, value, context, character, personality, voice and emotion. There are two additional elements which any successful on-line brand must convey as well. Any brand represented on-line must be approachable, which means, the company behind the brand must listen to consumers. It’s a two-way communication channel. And second, any on-line brand is significantly impacted by its on-line user experience. Usability, then, becomes a branding issue. Navigation frustration in the on-line marketplace is a brand killer.



Traditional advertising buys reach. GRPs, its cousins in all forms of traditional media, as well as frequency, are a matter of planning and budgets. The benefits of wide reach and frequency are available to any advertiser and are usually a question of budgets. On the Internet, however, an advertiser’s reach is soon measured by its customer list. Banner buys and portal deals can in fact reflect similar traditions of reach and frequency, but the state of one-to-one Internet marketing has veered sharply toward customer relationship marketing where any advertiser’s reach is their list of current and prospective customers.
In order to acquire customers and intenders, then, advertisers have become content providers, and must earn the privilege of conducting a dialog with consumers. Reach must now be earned and can no longer just be bought.



An advertising message is embodied in a radio or television spot, in ad copy, in a direct mail piece or even long-form TV. The nature of these traditional media is that these messages are pushed out into the world to consumers, and spread as wide as budgets will allow. Successful campaigns generate a result in the form of a response… a visit to a store, use of a particular phone service, purchase of a consumer good or the likes. Some of these traditional tools drive traffic to a web page. This single response, a new consumer arrives at a web page, is often considered a win for on-line advertisers.

In the new world of Internet marketing, this is where the real opportunity begins. Our challenge as marketers is to provide compelling content at that web site, and to insure that consumers have several good reasons to give you permission to dialog with them; to subscribe to clubs, newsletters, tips, etc. This very act—a consumer granting you permission to dialog—constitutes the fundamental shift from message delivery being pushed out to consumer to consumer pulling the messages they’re interested in receiving.

Our job becomes generating the opportunities for consumers to do so. This is a fundamental shift in the goals of advertising.



So, the moment a consumer becomes engaged in a dialog with a content provider (advertiser by another term) is the moment that company takes on the responsibility of conducting a relationship with that consumer. Any company doing business on the Internet had better measure its business potential and current value in terms of the life-time value of each consumer. That “life time” is determined by a company’s ability to maintain that relationship.

So, any company with customers must hold every employee responsible for contributing to a positive relationship with each and every customer. That process begins with the advertising efforts in that all company material must embody brand characteristics and engender a welcoming, servicing attitude. Every customer touch point needs to further that relationship without fail.

In the traditional world, “customer relations” were not considered an objective of the marketing department, but the domain of the customer service people, or worse yet, some out-sourced call center. Those days are over.


Overview of Primary Differences Between Traditional & Online Marketing


One-to-one customer dialoging including rich-media is a reality today. Customers are in the driver’s seat. The success of Internet marketing will be a function of our ability to put these new models to work in the proper context. Those who do this will be rewarded both personally and professionally. The Internet is a two-way street, and driving on the wrong side can be fatal. Only one lane belongs to marketers; the other belongs to consumers. Use the best vehicles available, and drive safely.

Ross Teasley
Nov. 1999
Published in The Advertiser, magazine of the Association of National Advertisers

[ photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajlvi/109542125/ ]

About Ross Teasley

Technologist, marketer and environmentalist living in Dana Point, CA. Creative Director of Casa Dana Group, Inc.


  1. hyperhead says:

    10 years ago today, this post appeared on my website and as a magazine article.

    This was my first blog post (though I didn’t realize it at the time).

    The version posted here has been edited, but I wanted to celebrate and mark this 10-year anniversary.

    A whole closing section about why video email advertising is the future was removed… I was pimping for a company selling those services at the time I wrote this; so I had to wrap their angle into the piece… plus, that was before email had lost its battle with the spammers.

    But nonetheless… what do you think? Does this read as bland and obvious now (10 years down the pike), or do you think it’s worthy of an Anniversary Post?