Making Sense Of Advertising

8th June, 2015 by

How to get your brand out there in the digital age.

There was a time, when advertising consisted of three mediums; TV, radio and newspapers. Then came a demand for posters, and as businesses started to want to know exactly who was buying their products, came direct marketing – otherwise known as mailers. TV was only for big business, which spawned the industry of advertising agencies, which reached its apex in the 50s and 60s (we’ve all seen Mad Men). Radio was a bit more accessible for smaller companies as there were lots of local radio stations, and newspapers were for local businesses to advertise in.

Fast forward to 2015, and the advertising industry is a very different place. For one thing it’s no longer necessary to employ a specialist company to organise campaigns on your behalf. Anyone with an internet connection can organise online advertising with a bewildering variety of outlets and media to choose from. Advertising through digital marketing platforms can take the form of smartphone apps, text messaging and targeted display ads, to name but three. The absence of physical products means advertising costs can be kept low, and a wealth of recordable statistics ensures campaigns can be scrutinised in real time for their effectiveness and coverage.

The obvious starting point for any online advertising campaign is a search engine. Research in America has indicated that four fifths of smartphone users use search engines to find local businesses providing the services or products they wanted. In 2013 Google, Bing and Yahoo handled 95% of the world’s search engine results. When you consider that Bing and Yahoo are effectively powered by the same algorithm, it means two brands process almost all of the UK’s internet queries. The other 5% of global web traffic is often channelled through country-specific portals like China’s

The leading search engine advertising campaigns are called Google Adwords and Bing Ads. Creating an account with either platform is easy, although the actual mechanics of constructing an ad campaign are rather more complex. Account holders typically create an online advertisement, before researching keywords or phrases that can be used to find their company, product or service (often via Google Analytics). These terms are then entered into a list, and each is assigned a maximum value for the amount of money the advertiser will pay to be associated with that term. When other people search for that term, the advert is displayed beside the ranked results; if anyone clicks on it, the advertiser has to pay the cost-per-click value.

Unsurprisingly this CPC value varies hugely depending on the search term. An estate agent would pay a high price to have their advert appear beside results for “flats in London”, whereas a specific term like “maisonettes in Dulwich” would probably cost pennies. The art of identifying these terms shares many principles with search engine optimisation (SEO), another cost-effective method of brand promotion via dedicated websites or related content like blogs and LinkedIn articles.

Although the twin titans of Facebook and Twitter are increasingly regarded as being in the maturity stage of their product life cycles, sponsored posts or Tweets can still attract attention as users instinctively click on anything that catches their eye. The same cannot be said for email or text message advertising, although it’s estimated that a quarter of email marketing is still opened. There is a degree of crossover here between advertising and marketing, much as there is with social media accounts and promotional videos.

Other forms of digital advertising are far more localised, such as sponsoring podcasts or advertising in mobile apps. These should only be considered when the digital marketing platform is directly relevant to the advertiser’s industry – for example, a timber merchant sponsoring a DIY company’s YouTube videos. Less scrupulous ad agencies will sell blanket advertising packages for a spectrum of websites, even though these are often untargeted and therefore ineffective. The web banner adverts themselves should be concise and eye-catching, but most importantly they must be relevant to the target audience.

With so much content to digest online, the best way to capture people’s interest is by advertising products or services directly relevant to them. In that respect at least, advertising hasn’t really changed.

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