The digital arena has been deeply confusing for both advertisers and publishers. At first, we thought it was just like print — so we ripped out static ads from print publications and pasted them on people’s screens as banner ads. Then we decided that it was just like TV, so we made people watch commercials (or pieces of them) before we could see the content — just like a TV timeout at a football game.
It turns out that the public didn’t react much to either, because the digital realm isn’t like other places that advertisers were used to. It is much more dynamic than print and much more intimate than TV. People get to direct and customize much of their digital experience — looking at what they want to look at, when they want to look at it, and with whom they want to look at it. In that same vein, it has proven hard to make people look at digital ads. You have to get them to want to look at them.
The good news is that the advertising industry is experimenting like crazy and slowly coming up with more ads that people want to look at all the time.
Have you seen the “Puppyhood” ads for Purina on BuzzFeed? It’s impossible not to watch them. How about the eBay ads on imgur? They’re very popular with imgur users, even though they know they’re ads. And these are just two examples of the thousands of new ways that advertisers are figuring out how the digital space is fundamentally different — but certainly no less interesting — than more traditional media. I fully expect that by the end of 2016 we will see many more advertisers and news organizations coming out and saying: “We finally have digital ads that are driving big revenue!”
But it won’t all be about a digital future. I also predict that there will be a new and growing appreciation for the power and value of print advertising. Sir Martin Sorrell says it’s true. The simple fact is that no matter how cool the digital realm is, print is still an awesome technology that does something almost magical in our high-speed world: It keeps people engaged. Print is again going to attract advertisers who are willing to say: “I don’t care about being cool. I want to drive big sales at a good price.”
David Chavern is president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.