Media: A Moment with Marquis

The news that internet advertising is now bigger than outdoor is truly remarkable. Advertising's oldest medium overtaken in ten short years by its youngest. (Cinema and radio had already been overtaken.)

It is not just the speed of the internet's growth that is extraordinary.

There are other facets of its sprint to £1 billion annual revenues that defy belief. The first is that what seems like a generation ago, but was in fact a mere five years, the internet looked a complete turkey. Hyped beyond all reason, it crashed and burned as meteorically as it has risen.

Not only did the dotcom bubble-burst scare the pants off City punters who had bet - rashly, as it turned out - on the world going virtual overnight, it dragged the whole ad business into a three-year recession. How forgiving we are!

The £1 billion mark is quite an achievement, not least because the internet saddled itself with a tricky problem from day one - everyone expected it to be free. Internet sites that charged for access pretty quickly came to realise that this was a business model doomed to failure, so to generate that sort of revenue from advertising in essentially a freebie market is going it some.

What's more, the internet has done this largely without an industry-wide currency. It is ironic that as all the mainstream offline media wrestle with the future direction of their research surveys, internet advertising is busy trying to invent one for itself. When it gets that sorted, expect a further gear shift.

There is yet another breakthrough waiting to happen. When that one gets a grip, there will be no stopping it. It has happened periodically with outdoor, the most significant upgrade happening in the 70s. It's never quite happened in radio, where it has been more evolutionary than revolutionary.

I am talking about creative sex appeal. There is some clever, interesting, novel and effective work on the internet, but there is one hell of a lot of dross too. When creative departments en masse pay attention and devote maximum energy to online campaigns, we can expect a massive surge in its usage.

How far internet advertising has come. How much further it will surely go. It's almost as if it needed that early comeuppance, that reality check, to spur it to more seemly development - its early precociousness slapped down to allow the rest of us to catch up. But, there are no excuses for missing the boat this time. You don't get to clock up £1 billion in a year just by being a jumped-up newcomer.


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