Big ads = big bucks = big trap?

If you’ve been to the home page of YouTube recently, you’ve no doubt seen the enormous ads at the top of the page. This is YouTube’s latest ad offering, and it’s being sucked up like hot cakes by the motion picture industry. Bigger is better when it comes to efforts by Madison Avenue to bring a television-esque branding capability to the Web, and the YouTube offering is one of six new sizes adapted by the IAB to try and take some of TV’s money.

YouTube's winning entry

The Web is a direct marketing marvel, and direct marketing concepts are where the revenue growth has been online. The media/advertising hegemony, however, is all about branding — the idea of placing your product or service in front of eyeballs to get noticed — and that hasn’t worked with typical banner advertising. The idea here is that by increasing the size of the ads, the Web will become a brand advertising medium, and everybody will be happy.

Of all the format “winners,” I like YouTube’s the best, because the company, according to an article in Advertising Age, is smart enough to consider their users.

Getting the attention of viewers while not getting in the way of their web experience is a tricky line to walk, which is what led YouTube to develop its winning entry, which only appears on the home page of the video-sharing site, but which nonetheless draws the user in. “What people do on YouTube is watch video,” said Suzie Reider, the director of display advertising. “And when a user is watching video, that’s not a great place for a snazzy execution. The home page solves that for us — it gave us a place where the advertising unit isn’t competing.”

It’s interesting to me that these deals between advertisers and publishers don’t include users, who find ways to overcome all sorts of gimmickry, even if it means “seeing” only the “close this ad X.” I spoke in November with Jakob Nielsen, the Web’s usability guru, about these kinds of ads, and he wasn’t optimistic.

…the prediction is that banner blindness will evolve to encompass these new formats, which will become ever-less effective for advertisers. But they will become ever-more annoying, and thus turn users away from those publications and advertisers who employ them.

I appreciate the need for these kinds of ads and recognize that only a fool would push money away by not making them available — all six new ad units. What bothers me (and many others) is that the brand advertising concept so suits traditional publishers, including TV stations, that it stifles innovation by drawing people away from new value creation. We know for certain that the Web is a direct marketing marvel; the jury on branding is still out. And yet, this is where our attention is focused.

Local television companies need to also be aware that this is an attempt to move ad money from television to the Web, and that it’s an easy sell for traditional account executives who, in a converged sales shop, are going to be pushing these ad units as a way to meet their Web budgets.

But the biggest danger is one of inertia when we need to change. The more Madison Avenue plays with this, the greater the likelihood we have of falling back on the old for comfort. We like to think we’re in the content business and that our content has value greater than any other form of content. We’ll push that idea to the ends of the earth, and we’ll produce only incremental growth as a result. In Media 2.0, advertising IS content, and that’s where the real growth lies.

So let’s take the money, if it’s available, but let’s not do so at the sake of advancing new value creation.


  1. […] – Terry Heaton captures a look at the huge banner/video ad that was running on the front page of YouTube in discussing how that […]

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