I have a lot of conversations about how most of the startup world doesn’t have a good enough understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the advertising industry. Nick Denton clearly doesn’t have the same problem. These two comments from an interview with Daily Front Row do a great job at summing up why things don’t work the way most people think they should.
First, on media buying:
Have you ever seen one of those ComScore charts media buyers use? They’re totally revealing. You see one, and you just get it. If you’re a media buyer, you’re gonna say, “Give me the top 10 or 20 sites that match my criteria.” You’re not gonna scroll all the way down the list to, I don’t know, the Awl. No one’s even going below the fold! You need to be big, and the big, in turn, just keep getting bigger.
Then on direct-response versus brand advertising:
From the kinds of advertisers we want, yes [the response to the new design has been "fine"]. We don’t want the direct-response advertisers. Most of the Web has been about direct response–shitty creative, with performance measured by how many people are clicking through and buying. The truth is, no one clicks through. Unless they’re stupid.
My only issue here is that the first point recognizes the illogical (or maybe just lazy) way the industry functions while the second hopes that it will magically change. For better or worse, it’s still going to take time to ween advertisers, even the big brand folks, off direct response (even though they’ll be the first to tell you it’s not what they’re going for). I think the big, in-your-face ad helps, but at the end of the day there is still a column in the spreadsheet for clicks. If I were Denton, and with that had the guts he seems to have to throw away stuff that’s working while it’s still working, I’d just switch off the clicks on the big hero ad in the right column. Make it an animated billboard that has no link attached to it. I don’t know that you can actually do that in DoubleClick, but it would go a long way to changing the conversation to the one he wants to have (and I think would be very good for the industry as a whole).