I feel like I could start every post related to digital marketing by saying, “And another thing … .”

Honestly, every time I think we’re about to turn the corner, I see the digital equivalent of a sign spinner standing on that corner screaming for my attention. And sometimes they don’t even stay on the corner — they run in front of my car when the light turns green and try to force me to spend precious time looking at their stupid sign before they let me get on with my day. They do this over and over, even though statistics shows that only two drivers out of every 1,000 that they accost will actually come into the store.

That’s when I realize how far the martech industry still has to go.

Putting a New Spin on the Same Old Problem

Because digital advertising happens, by definition, in the abstract, it can be difficult to grasp the absurdity of its worst practices. That’s why it helps to analogize it to real-world forms of advertising, like skywriting. Or those sign spinners I just mentioned. To see what I mean, let’s take a spin down Digital Boulevard.

A Hopeful Sign

Now, just as not all digital advertising is bad, not all sign spinners are bad, either. Take this guy. He performs his job competently, and he succeeds in drawing your attention without crossing over into obnoxiousness. And his pitch makes sense contextually. He’s urging you to complete a relatively low-cost task (getting your oil changed) that you probably don’t want to do yourself.

So, if you happen to be overdue for an oil change and you’re out running errands anyway, this sign spinner’s prompt could be enough to get you to stop procrastinating and devote a mere 15 minutes to accomplishing that task right now. It’s a utility-driven transaction that benefits both the brand and the consumer. That’s how digital works best.

A Turn for the Worse

The problem is, far too many brands glommed onto digital because it was convenient and inexpensive for them, completely forgetting the consumer in the process. They effectively turned Digital Boulevard into a one-way street. Their content was lame, their goals were misguided, their efforts were inept, like these guys. (Seriously: “Now open”? That’s all you got? Do yourself a favor and hire a professional like that oil-change guy.)

The Lowest Common Denominator

Soon every brand and its brother hopped aboard the virtual bandwagon, which quickly became so overloaded that it began disrupting traffic. The consumer was forced to run a gauntlet of obnoxious, intrusive ads every time they ventured out on Digital Boulevard. Like this.

But because the ads were so cheap, brands kept doubling down on serving inappropriate content with less and less contextual relevance in ways that were increasingly disruptive of the user experience. Like this.

If You Provide Someone an Advertising Vehicle, it’s Your Fault if They Crash it

For brands, digital became a double whammy. Many were slow to recognize what digital ad exchange algorithms were doing in their name — and that their brand’s reputation was paying the price for others’ sins. And as cheap as digital was, you still ended up getting what you paid for. In many cases, you weren’t even getting that, once you took into account the lack of viewability and the use of bots.

An Alternate Route

Despite my sometimes cynical outlook, I’m feeling more optimistic about martech now than I did a few years ago. More and more brands are recognizing the importance of tangible collateral served to the consumer in the home. Because the simple truth is, very few purchase decisions are made out there amid the noise and stress of Digital Boulevard.

More and more brands are also rediscovering the importance of good old-fashioned regression analysis, like the kind that drove the direct mail industry for so many years. The problem with traditional direct mail, as with digital, was overkill: Junk mail was the original spam. Visible waste offends the consumer.

With Programmatic Direct Mail®, we’ve weeded out the waste and limited our lists to high-probability retargeting, derived from our proprietary system of analyzing online intent data. Yes, our unit cost is much higher than digital. But so is our ROAS.

So if that vanishingly small response rate is working for you, by all means stay the course on Digital Boulevard. But if you’d prefer a more direct route to profitability, let us take you home with Programmatic Direct Mail®.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash
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