There is no such thing as digital advertising

Posted on by Guy Cookson


“There is no such thing as digital advertising,” analyst Benedict Evans recently posited.

“There is search advertising, and social advertising, both of which function very effectively, and then there is display advertising on the open web, which doesn’t really work well at all.”

It is hard to argue with this perspective.

Alphabet, the company that owns Google, is valued at more than $1 trillion (yes, you read that right) and the vast majority of its revenue comes from search advertising.

Facebook, on the other hand, has built its fortune – and a comparatively measly $720 billion (!) valuation – from social advertising.

While these two forms of advertising are undoubtedly successful at generating vast revenues for tech businesses, they work very differently.

Every time you use Google you are revealing your wants and needs, and providing the company with an opportunity to serve up a sponsored search ad, via an instant auction, that best matches your requirements.

Google has mastered the art of reaching people when they have purchase intent – and this is extremely valuable to brands that want to access potential customers that are on the tipping point of buying something.

If you sell copper sauce pans what could be better than showing an ad to someone that is looking for a new set?

But how do you persuade people to buy something that they are not yet looking for?

How do you get people interested in your saucepan brand if they have never heard of it, or stoke someone’s interest in copper saucepans instead of the stainless steel or cast iron ones they usually buy?

Whilst Google has built a way to capture our conscious needs, Facebook has developed a way to discern our otherwise hidden preferences – and perhaps even our unconscious desires – through social advertising across its network, which includes Instagram.

This form of advertising is targeted based on the content we post, share and interact with – coupled with other data, such as our location, browsing behaviour and prior purchases (information also used by Google).

It is not surprising that as a result the ads are effective and can even appear uncanny in their apparent relevance.


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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