Disruptive advertising: The internet is not TV

When big brands want your attention, they are very skilled at getting it, especially on TV.

That’s mostly because TV adverts have been around for far longer than the internet and best practices have been honed over decades, and drilled into budding brand managers and media buyers.

But the world is changing, the internet is still in its infancy yet is re-writing the rule book when it comes to audience selection, reach and attention.

TV has, until Smart TV, followed rigid rules making the advertisers job relatively straightforward. The brand demographic lends itself to a select group of TV shows, a well bounded time of day making the best time to show your advert pretty much decided. All you need do is write the cheque and hope your brand awareness and sales rocket.

This all works because your audience is a sitting duck. Sitting on the sofa watching their favourite TV programme and every so often being bombarded with advertisements in the ad breaks. The louder, more repetitive adverts or those with an element of humour are those that disrupt the usual attempts to ignore the ad and get through to the mind of the target audience.

Loud, repetitive and humorous are disruptive techniques that work well for TV.

Then along came the internet and in the 1990s, the equivalent of the disruptive ad was the pop-up. Typically these ads were full screen and obliterated whatever you were trying to browse in Netscape.

More pernicious sites would fire hundreds of pop-ups at the visitor, preventing the 133MHz processors and Windows 3.1 machines being able to keep up with the rate of display. The only way out was to click the ad.

This was disruptive advertising on the internet and it wasn’t long before pop-up blockers were being used to stop this annoying experience.

Today, pop-up blocking is part of any good browser as standard, so there are very few sites that attempt this form of evil advertising – except for scam sites, malware sites and porn sites in the darker recesses of the net.

Advertising on the internet is no longer disruptive, it is very different.

Most large corporates have sites that can process transactions any time of day or night. Until smart TV arrives, this makes advertising a very different beast on the net compared to the disruptive techniques used on current ‘traditional’ TV.

The TOP 5 ways advertising differs on the net:

  •  Choice

  •  Conversions

  •  Community

  •  Calls to Action

  •  Counting

Taking each in turn, lets start with Choice.

When you are browsing the net it is an elective experience. You actively choose to go from site to site, or use Google / Bing / Yahoo to search. Advertising has to keep up with your moves and many sites will drop cookies on your machine to record the details of your visit – the products you looked at, the keywords you searched for, how close they were to making a sale. This information is used to prepare adverts you see on the next site to entice you back to a previous site and complete a transaction, or view alternative relevant products. The key is that successful adverts on the net are not distruptive. The adverts that work, are the adverts you choose to click on. The CTRs are recorded and the best adverts are used on subsequent visitors.

It is the choice on the internet that hones and tunes the adverts everyone is shown, from PPC ads to adverts shown through re-targeting. Choices made by thousands of people determine the winning advert, the one that appeals the most. This is rarely the most disruptive, often the most useful instead.

If you want your adverts to perform well, it is imperative that you provide adequate choice and let visitors decide which advert they like best. Unlike TV, the visitor is in control on the web and they can choose to leave a website at any time if they find the adverts get annoying, they simply go to a competitor website. Whereas, a website with adverts that are appropriate will find that visitors choose to use that site in preference to one where the ads appear distruptive. Google’s Adsense program is the direct result of the importance of appropriate advertising on a website.

Google’s recent Panda updates may be penalising sites that choose to run with disruptive or inappropriate adverts. Such sites repel visitors. Google has openly declared that it is working to promote sites that visitors like best in search results, those are the sites without off-putting advertisements.


The second difference is Conversions.

Conversions can be recorded and attributed to paid advertising campaigns, be they PPC, video, re-targeting or simply direct visits. This data is crucial to making effective advertisements. Unlike TV, there is a direct measurable impact of running a good advert against a bad one on the internet. So long as the attribution modeling for the various channels is appropriate, it is possible to tell exactly what works and what doesn’t when running adverts on websites.

After a TV campaign, dubious data is collected from questionnaires with leading questions about awareness and the likelihood of buying a product now you’ve seen the ad. At best, this is a vague finger in the air. Even with technology recording viewer metrics it is hard if not impossible to relate this TV activity to subsequent sales.

On the internet, conversion data is in black and white. PPC managers continuously tune campaigns to cull and grow keywords, tweak text, video and audio creatives. They not only know whether an advert worked, but they know how to make variants of a performing advert work even harder in a matter of days. TV advertising can touch that for an optimisation process!

But it doesn’t end there.

The TV shows had to be decided and ad space booked months in advance. If you’ve picked the wrong show for your demographic profile it is then very hard to change it. With the internet, if an advert performs poorly on one website, it can be removed in an instant and displayed on an alternative site (still fitting the same demographic profile).

The ability to constantly evolve adverts and the sites that the ads appear on based on performance (e.g. ROI or CTR), puts the internet in a very different place to TV.


The third difference is Community:

It doesn’t take long for a good advertisement to be shared around the world. Have you seen the VW advert with the child in the Darth Vader outfit?

A strong advert on television has people ‘looking out for it’. They may never see it if they happen to be part of the demographic that wasn’t being targeting on TV.

A strong advert on the internet can be seen be everyone. Stretching outside the target demographic and into new measurable communities in an instant. Whole new markets open up when this happens, and the data is readily available for use. Visitors to YouTube or other video sharing sites can be analysed and communities identified.

What brand wouldn’t like to know that it was a 80:20 male to female ABC1 demographic afterall, what if the data showed that many more women were interested in the product as a result of the advert being shared.

The community aspect of the internet is all powerful, with Facebook, StumbleUpon and Twitter leading the way in relating brand sentiment.

Monitoring the effectiveness of a TV advert through social media is possible, of course, but the TV advert alone doesn’t engage with communities.

Advertising on the internet (when done properly) can engage and build advocacy that will resonant in on-line communities for years.


The fourth major difference between TV and the internet is the use of Calls to Action.

With TV, the options are somewhat limited. Go out and buy it, is the message.

With the internet, CTAs can be much more subtle and elaborate.

The basic message is often ‘Come and buy it’ in primitive PPC campaigns, but there are more effective messages available too.

Visitors can be asked to:

1. Enter competitions

2. Tell a friend

3. Leave a review

4. Join a newsletter

5. Leave feedback

6. Come back and get a discount

7. Vote on polls

8. Complete questionnaires

9. Rate a product review for its usefulness

10. Consider buying related products at the checkout

I’ll stop there as there are so many CTAs possible on the internet. A good customer relationship strategy is essential to order and maximise the impact of each call to action.

Compare the internet the Calls to Action possible on the TV are embarrassingly poor.



The final difference is in Counting.

The king metric for the TV is TVRs. These TV ratings hope to predict how large the audience will be for the disruptive advertisment. The TVR count is a vague attempt at counting the numbers of people exposed to the advertisement. Some celebrity or live competition TV programmes attract millions of viewers, others only a handful.

Depending upon the demographic and hence the programmes selected, the TVR count can be very different.

Distruptive advertising holds true to the linear nature of markting and sales. The more people you can expose to the advertisement, the higher sales will be. The more you spend on advertising, the greater the sales in a linear relationship.

This linear relationship that works well in TV, doesn’t translate to the web, where people can choose not to watch the advert and skip to the next site, or return to Google to revise their search. The ability to avoid an advert by not clicking on it makes the internet a very different beast when it comes to counting and projecting sales. In simple terms, the relationship between exposure and sales seen in TV is a much less direct relationship on the internet.

The ability of a website visitor to choose not to watch an advert, not to click an advert and even to leave a website with unpleasant looking advertising breaks the linear relationship between marketing spend and sales. The linear nature is broken further due to the optimisation process possible on the internet. For no additional spend, conversion rates can be doubled or tripled by an experience PPC campaign manager. In fact, it is often a foolish pursuit to add budget to an already well-optimised campaign in the hope of gaining additional visitor and sales counts.

As with all optimisation processes, there is a sigmoid curve to follow and a sweet-spot to occupy to keep conversions up and costs down. Increasing the ‘count’ will only serve to reach the maximum spend with diminishing returns on investment.

At the start of a campaign on the internet, the adverts are poorly optimised (unless you are very lucky!). The numbers of visitors choosing to click on the advert, (as well as landing pages, quality of the host site etc.) will determine the cost of the advert itself. Over time, adverts will out perform others and through active management the best adverts (usually the adverts that lead to conversions) are retained and the costs controlled. Increasing the budget will initially invite more clicks and lead to more conversions. Beyond a certain point, however, the additional budget will simply cause the adverts to be more prevalent and exposed to those with less intent to buy and a greater propensity to click on sites that are less suitable.

In extremis, the desire to spend a very large budget in order to increase visitor counts could see adverts being shown across inappropriate networks with clicks costing more than the optimal amount and leading to reduced conversions. Such campaigns should be scaled back until the ‘sweet spot’ in the sigmoid curve is found once again.

It important to understand that visitors are not simply ‘counted’ on the internet. They are monitored, optimised and constantly changing depending upon a myriad of factors. Visitors may be more likely to convert on a Monday, for example, from certain sites, and through social media on a weekend. The relationship between marketing spend and sales is not linear on the internet, and optimisations are continuous to squeeze the most ROI.

This may mean not spending all the money if conversions are low because the sun came out and everyone stopped browsing the web!

The optimal ‘count’ on the internet is constantly changing. Adverts, positioning, bids can all be optimised to keep costs low and conversions high. The concept of a ‘count’ for the internet is an epiphenominon – its like asking: Exactly how many ants built that anthill?

I don’t expect ants to be predictable. Buying more ants may not have the desired effect – in fact it could affect the building of the anthill in unpredictable ways. By optimising location, soil and sunlight and providing the ingredients for an anthill, the right numbers of ants ‘will simply happen’ to build the anthill in the most effective way.

There’s no point counting the ants, when it’s getting the all building blocks together for the anthill that matters.



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