Is digital as attractive as it appears?

Digital seems to be the new black. It’s the trend everyone is talking about. Advertising budgets might shrink, say ‘those in the know’, but online platforms will attract a bigger share of those budgets than ever before.

The global CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group, Laura Desmond, told the Dubai Lynx festival last week that worldwide digital spending will see double-digit growth this year. And here in the Middle East, research company Real Opinions says its survey of almost 450 business people in the region showed more than a third were increasingly interested in the internet as a communications channel.

Why is this? Well, apparently its reach is more measurable. It’s also more flexible – ads can be continually adjusted and targeted more accurately. Crucially, it is also cheaper. One recent estimate puts digital ad rates at around a fifth of their print counterparts.

But questions remain. Firstly, are websites and internet services in the Middle East sufficiently well-developed to offer advertisers and agencies an effective platform?

Secondly, is there any good evidence for the success of online ads? It’s all very well telling us how many people viewed the page where the ad appeared but we don’t always know whether this led the consumer to make a purchase.

Related to that point is the argument that many consumers are irritated by the intrusion of uninvited ads flashing up on their screens. From banners to pop-ups and search to screensavers, nobody has properly solved the conundrum of how ads should appear on the internet.

Furthermore, is there a lingering mistrust of online ads? Brands that are already well established and well trusted are probably safe from such suspicion, but what about a new brand?

All of which makes us wonder (returning to our slightly awkward fashion metaphor) whether digital is the latest little black dress – appears to be dazzling but cleverly covers up one or two embarrassing flaws underneath?

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5 Responses to Is digital as attractive as it appears?

  1. On the Money says:

    I think a lot of the “advertising” online is actually “marketing”. Marketing is largely about keeping the name up in people’s minds. If some actually click on the ads …

  2. micky says:

    Well there’s digital and there’s digital, if you know what I mean. The intrusive flashing banner only serves to irritate consumers and feels like being cornered by an annoying salesman. It does a disservice to the medium and the brand. On the other hand, digital that warrants our attention generally gives something back and enters into a two-way conversation – more like an enjoyable chat with a like-minded individual. Anyone who caught Scott Goodson or PJ Pereira’s seminars at the Lynx will have seen some inspiring examples of the kind of connection digital can make when used well.

  3. As someone who has worked in the region for 12 years in digital media, I have seen the promise of digital continue to rise without it ever being matched by real spend. Even though key markets like the UAE and Saudi know have millions of consumers online, digital has yet to break out of its little 1% box as a percentage of overall media spend.

    Too often, the Internet is an indulgence, a cute little thing briefed by a client who knows nothing about digital to an agency who knows even less about digital (save the two programmers in their “new media” division). Is it any surprise that results and not being measured or delivered?

    The Internet is a measurable and accountable medium, and the detailed campaign analytics and website tracking tools available to Middle Eastern brands are not being fully utilized. Save for a few iconic brands like Emirates and Jumeirah who are working with their internal web specialists and their agencies to deliver real results.

    In the few occasions I have had to work with good clients that had a long-term vision and were able to make the necessary investment, we have delivered results and differentation for their brands.

    As for the glorious digital promise of 2009, we have yet to see it. Those of us in the digital space need to work harder to educate and involved in the potential available to them. Watch this space…

  4. Sarah says:

    As a consumer – I have installed onto my Mac a truly wonderful piece of technology called adblock pro. It does exactly what is says on the tin and blocks all those irritating pop-ups and page ads before they even subliminally urge me to want something I have no need for.

    As a designer – I have to agree that the online capability is ever increasing but when consumers can actively choose not to even view your chosen marketing, it becomes a fruitless exercise. Even at a great cost saving – it’s a waste of money. I think there is a place for successful online advertising, I just don’t think we have found it yet. Nick mentions trust and I think this plays a huge role in the downfall of online advertising in an era when we are constantly being reminded of online fraud and ID theft – do you really want to click that ad button?… well, do you?

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