Big brands shy away from online advertising. Let's blame someone.

Following on from my post yesterday suggesting that display advertising isn't such a big hit online, the Washington Post today published an article saying that big brands are still slow to invest in online advertising

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Yesterday I suggested two things. (Well, here anyway.)

That McDonalds sometimes make better ads than bugers and that it seems display advertising online isn't quite the big money souffle you might think.

Today, I discover that a wonderful McDonalds billboard last night won a Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival.

And that the Washington Post published an articlesuggesting big brands are not embracing display ads online.

The article attributes the lack of hefty cash being invested online to three factors: the reluctance of big brands that have been around a long time to experiment with something new; the difficulty of targeting the people you want to talk to; and, painfully, the reluctance and inability of advertising agency creatives to create anything for the web.

Everyone has different experiences. Personally, I have never found big brand clients to be terribly reluctant to experiment. In fact, they seem rather keen to win. It's just that a big brand is not always a confident brand.

Media sales people have tended to use the same shtick since The Partridge Family. (Put up a few charts with numbers on them and then afterwards tell the clients the numbers were 'achieved')

Which does not always arouse the additional confidence needed to make a persuasive sale.


There really does seem to be fewer big success stories in the display advertising arena than there are annoyances.

As I said yesterday, your laptop is personal. Mass advertising, reflective of a mass mood, isn't going to get a warm reception.

Now what of those halfwit creative people? It is true that when online began, no creative person wanted to go anywhere near it. Why? Because there were no online awards. And when they finally created them, those awards had no cachet. (they do now, of course.)

It is one of the sadder truths of the advertising business that creatives are keener to do ads that make them famous (famous in the advertising world, that is. Most creatives are so conservative, they wear Pinochet underpants beneath their Diesel Jeans) rather than ads that might, oh, answer the brief, or work.

And it's true that creating something specifically for the online medium requires a very different form of patience. Less Job, more Charlie Sheen's girlfriend.

As one creative told me the other day: "Creating work for online isn't like the creation I've been familiar with. It's an engineering project."

On the other hand, agencies and clients have been awful in working together to measure success.

I can honestly say that I have been involved in major campaigns where no one could tell me whether the campaign worked or not.

And I have witnessed agencies claiming their ads worked while clients tried to do everything to claim they didn't because there was a clause in the contract that meant the client had to pay the agency a bonus for success.

Yes, it all comes down to relationships. Relationships between clients and agencies and relationships between clients, agencies and humans online.

When people are online, it seems they either want a relationship with themselves or with someone who purports to be real.

Perhaps the techniques involved in forging these more personal relationships (rather than TV-driven sermons from a distance) are a little more difficult for big brands.

Some big brand efforts remind me of extremely large people who have turned up for their first spin class in bright orange spandex tights.

Perhaps the mistake is in calling communication and content online 'advertising' at all.

With the way the online world has developed, everyone is putting parts of themselves out there in a Babel of human activity.

Everyone is, in fact, advertising.

Which means there is nothing noteworthy about a display ad at all. It is merely a vaguely old world boil.

Perhaps that is the toughest thing for big brands and their advisors to adjust to.