Why “Interactive” Became “Digital”
Remember when the guy who walked into the meeting with his laptop in hand and wearing jeans was referred to as the “interactive specialist?” Or maybe the “interactive guru?” Yuck, I’m glad both of those words have left the lexicon. The word “guru” we can all agree is just dumb, but why did “interactive” become “digital?”
Let’s start with why we used the word interactive in the first place. As internet advertising emerged as a new medium, marketers were overjoyed with the idea that audiences could now interact with ads. One of the first banner ads to run was an AT&T advertisement that read “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.”
This was the promise of internet advertising. Web users would see our amazing ads and immediately take action. The phrase “click here” would result in consumers not only clicking but purchasing as many of our products and services as their credit limit would allow.
Since the first banners appeared on web browsers, twenty-two years have passed. Over that time, a total of 28 people have actually clicked on a banner ad on purpose. AT&T made a lot of bold predictions in the 90s that turned out to be true, including video conferencing and GPS navigation. On this one they missed the mark.
The banner ad example illustrates that just because people can interact with advertising, it doesn’t mean that they will. However, despite their very low click rates, banners still provide the opportunity for interaction. So why did we replace the word interactive with digital? The answer isn’t only that many digital advertising formats don’t result in an interaction. With the proliferation of internet connected devices, many emerging digital advertising formats don’t even allow for interaction.
Digital video has seen a shift from computers and mobile devices to the wall mounted big screen in the living room. With the introduction of smart TVs and internet connected devices like Chromecast, AppleTV, and Roku, watching 65 inches of digital video has become the norm. This means digital advertising is appearing in environments where viewers can’t interact even if they want to. Which actually works out well because they don’t.
According to Hulu, a popular digital video streaming service, 67% of their video streams last year were viewed on a television. At our agency, we’re increasingly using YouTube and other digital video platforms to advertise our clients’ products and services. While creating a report recently we found that thousands of views of our YouTube ads occurred on smart TVs and through game consoles. These viewers didn’t click, but they did spend more time on average watching our spots and were more likely to watch them all the way through than viewers using mobile devices or laptops.
Advertising with digital video and banners won’t likely produce a lot of interaction, but these formats can be extremely effective at reaching large audiences and building awareness. It wasn’t that long ago that advertising on the internet was only considered when the marketing objective was direct response. After all, it’s interactive. Today we know that digital marketing can be used to achieve both awareness and direct response objectives.
I spent quite a bit of ink writing about how no one clicks on banner ads and how digital video can provide no ability to interact at all. It would probably be a good time to mention the digital marketing tools that are still used effectively to drive response. Search engine marketing, email marketing, and social media advertising can all drive potential customers to take a specific action. These tactics can be compared to the traditional strategies of Yellow Page advertising, direct mailers, and word-of-mouth respectively.
The comparisons between digital and traditional advertising, while not perfect, show how different types of digital media are used in many ways to achieve various objectives. It no longer makes sense to group “digital” as a single tactic within a media plan. Depending on your objectives, many different forms of digital advertising should be considered. Mass awareness used to be the role of outdoor and TV advertising. The vast reach potential of platforms like Facebook and YouTube means digital advertising can also achieve these ends.
The word “digital” will eventually be replaced as well. I predict it will be replaced with white space as just about every media type we engage with will be delivered via the internet. If anything, we’ll use words like static and terrestrial when describing traditional media.
I’m thankful that my title no longer contains the word “interactive.” It would be misleading. I’m still going to walk into the meeting with a laptop in hand and wearing jeans. Just don’t call me an interactive guru. Yuck.
(as published in the Rochester Business Journal)