C|Net and the Return of the Bad Old Days

How deep is the online-ad well?

That’s the question and title of an article by Elinor Mills at C|Net today.

The article begins by recalling Bubble 1.0, during which a lot of people, including me, launched web sites and services that were to be supported by online ad sales. Next, of course, it reminds us that for many of those people, it didn’t work out.

A few “industry experts” are claiming that since Ford and P&G are mad buyers of online ads and because more companies buy into the online ad medium, things are just as rosy as rosy can be. Certainly there are more buyers now, which is why all of Web 2.0, Yahoo, Google, AOL, Stowe Boyd, a baby and even Microsoft are making plays to get the advertising dollar while the getting is good.

And I absolutely agree that the decline of some traditional advertising allotments (because no one watches them and they don’t work) has resulted in a renewed, and somewhat desperate, focus on online advertising.

But here’s the thing. We have a confluence of several industries with a vested interest in placing and receiving ad dollars. That’s why everyone is singing the happy song about the long term prospects for online advertising. The reality, however, is that while this song and dance will prolong Bubble 2.0, it will not prevent an implosion once the entire internet hops onto the shoulders of the advertising dollar. Sure, a few people will get rich in the meantime, as more and more of the overall ad dollars chase the mythical internet ad clicker.

But the basic game is the same as last time. And the result will be substantially the same.

In the meantime, we can watch things play out and battle to protect our privacy as more and more targeting (read tracking) technology is tossed out as reason number one why ad buyers should look online.

The ad agencies who look past the low hanging fruit of the internet and develop the next big thing in advertising (whatever that may be) are the ones who should and will get rich. Advertising is at a pivotal point in its evolution. I can’t tell where it’s going yet. I suspect Steve Rubel has a pretty good feel for it. But I know where it’s not going- online. The smart agencies are the ones who see the internet as a rest stop on the way to a more stable destination.

In sum, I don’t agree with everything that’s in the C|Net article, but I am glad to see someone else asking the dreaded question.