Jamie Gavin
Jamie Gavin
A view from Jamie Gavin

Stop laying ads like a lazy platypus and start a conversation

Jamie Gavin argues innovations from Facebook to programmatic are still stuck in a 'laying flat ads on the page' mindset

The definition of a platypus is: "A semiaquatic egg-laying mammal believed to be the sole living representative of its family and genus. A duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed creature originally thought to be an elaborate hoax."

Laying flat ads on a page is nothing new. William Caxton perfected it when he served the very first printed advertisement in England in 1477: "Pyes of Salisbury. Good and chepe."

But fast forward more than 500 years and we’re still doing exactly the same thing: laying flat ads on a page. And in an age when one in five UK internet users are now using ad-blockers, this practice may finally find itself extinct.

The problem is that publishers and brands have misinterpreted what the technological advancements in digital have actually brought about, which is a shift in the very nature of content.

They have instead gone about lazily trying to "computerise" the old school practice of advertising.

Far from being the height of technological advancement, programmatic advertising is really just an archaic vision of "The Future" akin to a robot that fetches you the newspapers. It automates an essentially archaic model of didactic messaging, rather than using the true advancements in digital and social technology we have seen over the last 10 years.

Even Facebook, when you think about it, is still about laying flat ads on a page – and the clue is in the title.

Facebook represents an evolutionary step between old and new media, wrapping a traditional display advertising model around user-generated content, dipped in the promise of behavioural targeting.

It is no doubt true that a more targeted, "less invasive, lighter ad experience" as Guy Philipson of the IAB recently put it, can help quell the tide of ad-blocking, but this approach of simply cleaning up online advertising in its current form misses the point slightly.

People don’t want to be advertised to anymore. Mobile accounts for one third of global web traffic, social networking is now the second most popular medium in the world – either online or offline – behind television, 62% of Twitter users go on the service to find their news.

Gone are the days of being able to create neat, little content packages with neat little advertising, and gone too must be this old-fashioned concept of the traditional ad, however sophisticated the "algorithms" behind it may be.  

What brands need to do is take an "All roads lead to Rome" approach to their products and services, linking up messaging, interactions, and conversations across the web.

By attracting audiences back to a dedicated online location they can convert potential customers into leads, and get into the mindset of pulling audiences in rather than pushing messaging out.

Like Facebook, programmatic has provided a useful platypus in the recent evolution of media.

But if the industry is to move forward, it is time to get out of the lazy practice of laying didactic content on a page and move towards a more engaging, conversational model.

Jamie Gavin is managing director of communications agency InPress Online.