Digital advertising is not really digital, and mostly garbage

advertising cute cat
Image credit: Happy monkey /

Digital advertising has already overtaken TV advertising, right? Wrong. According to the latest Strategy Analytics Global Advertising Forecast to 2023, TV advertising spend will increase from $195 billion to $210 billion by 2023.

Digital video advertising spend will, even then, only account for 20% of the global video spend, even though it is the fastest growing part of the industry.

Which means we have almost no time to fix some of the ridiculous (my colleague would probably use the word crap here) attempts at making advertising ‘digital’ (there are a couple of examples of great video content at the bottom of this article).

A couple of months ago, a rather good differentiator between the terms ‘digitization’ and ‘digitalization’ came to our attention at the Huawei OTF event. Digitization simply means automating stuff. Digitalization means transforming the outlook and culture of the entire process and/or organization to think digitally.

The answer to the question “do we have a digital advertising strategy?” at the moment is “sure”. And this means that the company concerned has diverted some of the their advertising budget to slap pre-roll adverts onto the front of YouTube videos (other platforms are available), which you have to watch for five seconds before you can skip them. This, in turn, means that the five seconds of advert that you have to watch counts as an advert that has been, er, watched.

This is according to the absurd guidelines laid down by the Advertising Something Bureau. As long as a video advert rolls for about two seconds and as long as it is partially showing on screen, then it has been watched – even if what you are actually doing before hitting ‘skip ad’ is watching a seagull fly past your window, eating a spoonful of muesli or clipping your finger nails.

That is not watching an advert. That is bullshit.

Although we have been ranting about this for a year or two – mainly taking it out on Facebook – a talk from Nick Reed of Shareability at the recent Total Telecom Congress brought the frustration bubbling back to the surface.

Reed has built a company out of the realization that the metrics for video advertising are as absurd as the adverts that are slapped in our faces.

Video advertising is not digitizing adverts, it is not throwing existing adverts into online channels. It is about engagement and it is about shareability (see what Reed did there?).

An advert is engaging when the person watching it does something. They can hit ‘like’ as the least interaction. They can share, they can comment, they can download and watch recommended related content.

But clipping your finger nails while waiting to not watch the advert is, er, not watching the advert.

Slowly, ever so slowly, some are beginning to figure this out and to figure out you need great (or at least compelling) content to succeed. YouTube is changing, for instance. Now, you can watch the first episode of a series, and if you want to watch the rest, you subscribe.

You engage.

For too long, the industry has hidden behind outdated metrics simply to be able to answer that question about whether they are ‘onto’ digital video opportunities and they have been able to show figures that say they are.

The fact that all those figures actually say is that you bored 10 million people for five seconds is no longer enough.

Engage, advertising industry, while there is still time.

Or die.


Meanwhile, here are two examples of what Mr Reed means – for the Olympic Channel.


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