AdAge.com, and just about every online media press release I have seen over the past several days, reports a Jupiter study that predicts that online ad spending will grow by leaps and bounds over the next 5 years, reaching a possible 6.5% of offline spending by 2009.
You can almost hear the agencies scramble to adapt to this strange new reality. After the giant bubble burst at the beginning of the millennium, the fallout was pretty severe, and only a small handful of online companies had the business sense, timing, and good luck to survive in any measurable capacity. Yahoo slowly and quietly built it's empire, and Google paved the way for it's historic IPO this year. Meanwhile, the real value and power of the internet was starting to be seen in the wild undergrowth of self-published weblogs, as pundits both big and small staked their claim in the etherworld of the emerging blogosphere, independently creating the coveted 'content' that so many of the big traditional companies couldn't seem to master online.
But advertisers steered clear of the landscape, nervous and touchy about the way they suckered themselves during the inflationary boom, when money seemed to just appear magically out of thin air. 'Those that forget history' was never a more apt morality tale, as eager young VC's promised that the online ad landscape provided instant entree into people's lives, and would actually supplant traditional media as the content provider of choice for most Americans. New forms of media have never replaced the older forms, merely enhanced and changed them.
Then, it all came crashing down around us. Billions in mysterious ad revenue that no one could accurately justify vanished into the thin air that it came from, and the nouveau riche Silicon Alley set went penniless overnight. AOL was quickly and wisely dropped from the media behemoth's name, and the Time Warner stock ticker acronym was changed back to TWX as the old-school media barons of New York reasserted their rightful place in the boardroom, sending Case and his upstart cronies back to Northern Virginia where they belong.
So this news from Jupiter will most likely be greeted with some skepticism, as it should. But it should also make some sense in a world where nearly every demographically-desirable adult is plugged into the internet, and as we recover from the bitter growing pains of being burned by ridiculous exuberance we should be careful not to shy away from the reality of online advertising potential. It is not instant or free ad revenue - it is the kind you have to strategize, carefully craft, monitor and respond nimbly to in the marketplace as it informs you, just like any other advertising medium. It is definitely cause for excitement, as long as we don't get too carried away with ourselves again. And as difficult as it will be to navigate the tricky terrain of the online world, where the average viewer has more control and less patience for advertising than ever before, it is imperative that the industry adapt to these new realities as the digital world is bringing many of the same challenges to television as well. It's time to move the media planners back to their rear cubicles where they belong and get back to the work of nuts and bolts Madison Avenue ingenuity, creating the fascinating cultural storyline that is advertising.