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Attention and Intention

July 2, 2010

Bob Hoffman, the provocative blogger at AdContrarian.com asks “After 15 years, can anyone name even ten serious non-native consumer-facing brands that have been created by web advertising? Is there a brand of coffee, butter, beer, bread, chicken, gasoline, soda, peanut butter, dog food, milk, tires, potato chips, life insurance, lawn mowers…don’t make me go on, you get the point…that has been built primarily by web advertising?”

Although “non-native consumer-facing brands” is quite a caveat, and Bob forgets to mention the Internet as a mainstream advertising media is barely over a decade old, AND less than 10% of all ad dollars are spent online, he still has a point.

But the takeaway isn’t ‘web advertising is a failure.’ Far from it. To understand the role of digital marketing you need to understand the mindset of Internet users.

Marketing via traditional media is mostly about attention. Media planners are interested in demographics and relevance. They ask ‘does this programming sync with consumers who are most likely to buy the product being advertised?’ Media planners have few clues whether or not a viewer has any real intent to buy the product/service being advertised. I’ve watched hundreds, maybe thousands of TV ads by Geico and Progressive, and I have zero intent to purchase any of their fine services.

Internet users have an intention mindset. That explains why over 60% of online ad dollars are spent on search. When people are in the hunt for a particular product or service category, then tend to seek out product information, authorities, and reputations via digital media. They don’t sit in front of their TV sets to see which advertisement is most persuasive before making a purchase decision.

I realize I’m making some broad generalizations here. Most people don’t go online to research a candy bar or dish soap, and many brands move the awareness needle via web advertising. The point I want to make is marketing goals, user mindsets and media attributes should be a driving force behind any marketing strategy.

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