A snark in the online ad water

Calling the web an entity that needs to grow up, 30-year ad research consultant Gabe Samuels says online advertising will only reach its potential when publishers get on board the way things have always been. This remarkable perspective is in reaction to Tom Hespos’ brilliant post a week ago, about which I wrote here.

I don’t know Mr. Samuels, but this is a stunning rationalization for why we should all just sit back and wait and let mass marketing rules prove the viability of the web. In criticizing Tom’s essay, he cites evidence from the history of television and cable to suggest that the statements being heard today about the internet are identical to those used in the past. He then comes to the remarkable conclusion that — just like TV and cable — web ad dynamics are tied to old marketing laws and metrics, and that we all just need to get over ourselves to see it.

Television is undoubtedly everybody’s horse-to-beat; and here’s the reason why. Network TV leaders realized very early on that in order to beat radio they had to adapt and improve upon the then-prevalent metrics of “ratings.” There were many in those early TV days who argued–just as Hespos does today– that TV is SO different from radio because it has not only sound, but also “sight and motion.” It’s hard to dispute the fact that TV was as revolutionary in its first days as interactive is today, I think. Still, the Founding Fathers of TV very quickly adopted an (almost) exact replica of the audiometer and became successful (and extremely rich) in very short order.
Mr. Samuels’ blind spot is the same one to which Tom referred in his original post. The web is not a mass marketing medium, because control is at the fingertips of the consumer. It’s not just interactive in the sense that people can respond to mass marketing efforts; its interactivity includes the ability of consumers to make and publish their own media, easily spread their viewpoints, and determine if they want to participate at all in what a mass marketing entity chooses to send “down the pipe.”

Hence, the essential logic of this commentary is flawed. If the web WERE a mass marketing entity, I would have to agree with the relevance of his references to radio, TV, cable, outdoor and the yellow pages as being governed by certain immutable laws. The web, as I’ve argued many times in the past, is a revolution in communications, where the playing field is level, not top-down. Mass marketing laws don’t apply here across-the-board, and I agree with Tom that we need to find new ways of determining advertising success in this paradigm.

I’ve found in life that the growing process can be halted at any point while aging, and that the most likely culprit when that happens is fear-driven ego. I understand what Mr. Samuels is saying, but the evidence doesn’t support his theory this time around. The music format for radio is almost dead. Newspapers are losing circulation every month. Television is fragmented to the point where niche marketing is more effective than true “mass” marketing. Who uses the yellow pages anymore? Each of these is being torn apart by the new paradigm of consumer control and the unbundling of media.

This is not the time for media executives to spit in the face of creative thinkers like Tom Hespos.

And every time I get the chance these days, I’m going to use the wonderful quote from Stowe Boyd, “Don’t look to an aging member of the mainstream media to look in the crystal ball and foretell a revolution.” Amen.


  1. Gabe Samuels says:

    Dear Terry,

    I am gratified that my comments got your attention. I did respond to Tom on his blog. I do respectfully disagree with your position. So everytime I get the chance, I will use my old, tired adage: those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it!

    And incidentally, if all the mass media are losing ground so quickly, how come they still generate obnoxious amounts of dollars in advertising revenues?

    And how soon do you think "interactive" will become the revenue leader?

    Nevertheless, I do applaud your and Tom’s efforts and creativity. I just wish, for the sake of the new media that you remember the immutable laws of marketing. Wishing "it were so" ain’t gonna make it "so".

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