by Kevin Anderson, on July 11, 2012
Last week, Microsoft wrote off almost all of the $6.3bn that it paid for digital display advertising firm aQuantive five years ago, and the reasons why the tech giant took such a beating on the acquisition hold lessons for news organisations in how to get better performance out of their own digital advertising.
When Microsoft bought aQuantive, online display advertising was booming and the software maker was hoping to challenge the display king at the time, Yahoo, and the rapidly rising online advertising giant Google. It’s important to remember that while Google made its name as the search engine of choice for billions of internet users, the business that drives its billions of dollars in profit is advertising – search, display and mobile. How times have changed!
In a few short years, Facebook has knocked Yahoo from its display ad throne, and the bigger challenge for the entire sector is that the returns for display advertising have been plummeting.
In looking at Microsoft’s multibillion dollar write down, Reuters looked at why the display advertising market has gone soft:
The main culprit is an explosion of advertising space offered by Facebook Inc and other websites that is outpacing steady demand. But automated online exchanges, smarter search advertising and a growing skepticism about the effectiveness of jamming ads in people’s faces have also conspired to slash prices and suck profits out of the business.
“The inventory or amount of ad spots grew so fast, it outgrew demand,” said Dave Morgan, an industry veteran and entrepreneur. “That brought pricing down massively. So a lot of display advertising really became a ghetto for bad direct-response advertising.”
It’s not just the simple law of supply (or in this case, over-supply) and demand. Studies find that sophisticated users are able to simply blank out advertising, no matter how intrusive; Reuters quoted one business saying that it had shifted from using display ads to paid search advertising, affiliate marketing and comparison shopping sites.
For news organisations, Microsoft’s failure and the decline of the display advertising market hold some important lessons:
• Target your ads to improve performance. Reuters said that while Microsoft’s acquisition failed, Google’s purchase of display ad company DoubleClick worked in part because the search giant used its technology to deliver more relevant ads through better targeting.
• Keep pace with innovative ad offerings. You don’t want to be in the position of the US newspaper industry which now captures less than a percentage of digital advertising than they did a decade ago. Many advertising innovations have come from outside of the news and media industry. It’s important to make sure make sure that your advertisers aren’t lured away by these new digital competitors.
• Consider affiliate sales and marketing. Digital can connect an interested buyer with a seller in ways that weren’t possible in other media. Buyers can easily click from ad to purchase, and if you drove them to buy, then you’ll want to capture your commission.
Digital media doesn’t simply change your editorial opportunities, it also changes your advertising opportunities – and challenges. To make the transition to a sustainable digital news organisation, you’ll want to innovate in your advertising and sales just as your newsroom makes the effort to innovate editorially.