Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sorting out platforms: Advertising

"What to do about advertising?" has been the big question since Craigslist started making newspaper classified ad sections a mere shadow of their former selves. Whether the recession has had as much to do with plunging newspaper revenue as the Web has is still a matter of debate, but I think the Internet and the economic downturn formed the perfect storm to batter the newspaper business.

The solutions haven't been big winners, so far. It's clear that smaller papers with audiences insulated from the Web (local weekly papers) have done a lot better, mostly because they can still rely on a model of scarcity: there just aren't that many ways to get local news and see local ads. But who knows how long that will last?

I think a helpful way to think about ads in the Internet age is to focus on the best platform to deliver ads to readers. A decade ago, The Orion had one way to deliver ads: the print newspaper. Today, it can use the paper paper, the website, the website webscast and, soon, the new app.

All four have strengths and weaknesses. I think the best ad strategy would be to target advertisers based on the strengths of each platform. By the way, that's NOT what traditional newspapers have done very well. Their strategy has been to sell a combination of ad buys, making online ads part of a discounted package. All that did was teach advertisers that Web ads should be cheap or even free.

So, what kinds of ads go with which platform?

Newspaper - Information rich, price-focused, coupons, events that sell tickets in advance.
Website - Person-to-person (classified ads), advertisers trying to drive traffic to great websites, online stores.
Webcast - Awareness and public image advertising (think sponsorships: this program is brought to you by...), businesses with products that need to be seen in action to appreciate (cars)
App - New-customer focus, products that benefit from user interaction (smartphone coupons) and immediate sales (smartphone coupons).

Some advertisers might benefit from all four platforms, but many more would get the most benefit using one approach. I think selling the most effective platform is the way ad salespeople should approach them.

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