Well as Google UK nets £327m in advertising compared with an estimated £317m for ITV1, finally digital has usurped the dominance of TV in advertsing revenue generation.

Google shows ITV a vision of the future

So it was even more interesting to read a recent article where a top ranking senior at Microsoft suggested they can out manoeuvre Google in digital advertising revenue due to their dominance in display advertising over search.

Microsoft exec predicts shift in Net ad market

Now, don’t get me wrong I like Microsoft’s approach to advertising. They were one of the first publishers to get rid of the clutter of multi-placement adverts on their homepage; they only allow intrusive formats once a week. Their PreRoll video solution coupled with a companion banner to leave a brand footprint once the video disappears, still leads the way in how to effectively demonstrate the coupling of brand-response online. Whatever you think of online advertising per se, you have to hand it to Microsoft who are listening and responding to Joe Public to try and strike an acceptable balance between editorial, advertising and user experience.

But this article suggests more of a PR exercise in light of recent acquisitions as opposed to any serious grounding in user click-streams. Allow me to elaborate.

The argument is all about who gets credited for the last point of contact with a user before they convert.

“For example, if a customer sees a banner promoting a product on Microsoft’s MSN and watches a related video on Time Warner Inc.’s AOL and then searches for the brand on Google before making a purchase, only Google gets paid for the sale… Since search logically is often the last thing people do, it’s arguably getting more credit than it deserves”, says Brian McAndrews.

I am sorry, but I do not agree. And Amazon is proof in kind – I will get to this.

The problem with all measurements online is that we expect people to follow linear transient journeys. They don’t. People do not see and ad, click on it and go to your microsite and then convert. Neither do they see an advert, do a search and convert. If you dared look at the real stats you would find you are talking tiny, tiny numbers and missing the bigger picture.  There are many parts to the journey depending upon what a user is buying and where a user is at within that lifecycle.

Take cars for example.

I maybe in the market to buy a car. I may have the money in my bank, even know which one I want. But if I am on a bus to work and see a sign outside a showroom that says “Free insurance with this car” am I going to get off the bus and walk into the showroom there and then? No, I am on my way to work… so why then are we assuming someone is going to leave the content on a page and click on your advert and go somewhere else? That is a huge expectation. Would it not be far better to distract them somehow, let them respond by means of interacting, giving them a couple of secs to play around, and get back to what they were doing? In this regard, this is what rich media brings to the table – an immersive brand experience.

But an emotional brand experience can not be measured by mere response – and that ultimately is what a click is!

That immersive experience may well lead me into a deeper quest to find out more information. I may start by finding out can I afford it – anything from checking my bank balance, to searching loans, to getting an insurance quote. It maybe that I need to read reviews, find out what the safety features are, if it comes with they toys and refinements I want, what’s it like with fuel economy, what’s it like off the lights? During all this process I need constant reminding and convincing. I may well be searching for content, but then I see something, which pushes me into another quest for more information…

I need to be inspired by the luscious TV ads, I need to feel the quality of the brochure in my hand, I need to smell the newness of the leather in the car and feel what it is like when I push the ‘pedal to the metal’…

This is not linear behaviour, it is human behaviour.

We all have different needs and wants and desires, and though we may share some commonality, what inspired me to buy my car may be very different to what inspired you to buy the same car. Our journey to that decision was equally diverse, overlapping a few times for sure, but diverse all the same.

Amazon did this right and a long, long time ago – in a web far, far away…

They had to learn about users. They initially though lets spend our $2M profit on outdoor advertising to build up the Amazon brand, but it did not make as much impact as they hoped. People did not care so much for the brand. They did not see the Amazon ad around the football stadium and then type in the URL. They went to Google, searched for a product like ‘Sony DVD player’, they found it on a listing and then clicked through.

But that was only part of the journey – so this entry point, this user-centric homepage had to work around the user as an individual – tackling all the contributors that would then influence conversion.

This is how I would summarise the Amazon success factor:

  • Users are not transient, they don’t always go via a homepage
    • Passive: They start by awareness elsewhere, even offline
    • Active: They search for a product not the Amazon brand
  • They respond to certain influencers
    • Reviews: What do others say?
    • Options: What are my alternatives?
    • Incentives: Are there any special offers?
    • Hesitance: Can I think about it and come back later?
    • Simplicity: Can I just press one button to order?
  • Result: They made tangible conversions

In the role of digital advertising, if we have learnt anything from Amazon it is in that it needs to work with a user, not against them. Not only striking the correct balance in terms of which formats and how often, but in delivering it in timely and orderly fashion. I will see an ad, and then search for content. I will see another ad, and then search for content. At all of these junctures, can the advert know something of the previous interaction or users thinking and then adapt itself around that user to coax them along their journey? It is not search versus display argument, its search AND display!

And for the record, it will not be channel dependent either, it is not going to be web versus TV debate despite the commercial success stories – advertising needs to learn to adapt to the users environment, no matter which device they are now in front of… something I discussed in a recent industry forum.

Ah well, I guess someone at aQuantive had to justify their $6 billion acquisition somehow…