In the digital age, it’s dangerous to assume that “accessibility” is the same thing as “reach.” It’s true that the internet and its many digital platforms have made the average business or institution more accessible to the masses. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can, or will, make their way to you. And it definitely doesn’t mean they’ll convert, sign up, make a purchase or perform whichever other action you have planned for them. Here are nine reasons the importance of advertising is growing — not lessening — in the digital age.
1. Traditional Advertising Mediums Are on Borrowed Time
The year 2016 marked the first time earnings from digital advertising outpaced earnings from TV spots. If that doesn’t underscore the importance of advertising in the digital age, we’re not sure what does. We’ll say more in a moment about why there’s more to the story. But for now, “advertising savviness” looks a lot different today than it did just a few years ago.
2. It Takes More Work to Reach Younger Consumers These Days
Let’s dive into the concept of traditional versus digital advertising. Why, exactly, are traditional ads dropping in effectiveness? It’s in part because the market itself is changing. To survive, companies today need to double down on reaching tomorrow’s consumers — and that means millennials and Gen Z.
Some research indicates that Generation Z spends, on average, anywhere from six to nine hours online per day, using an average of five screens, such as laptops, tablets and phones. Advertising in the digital age is important because digital gadgets monopolize a greater and greater percentage of our free time. It’s how an ever-larger portion of the population engages with each other and with the world outside their heads.
3. Digital Advertising Can Reach Into the Physical World
Results can vary depending on where you live, but physical advertisements like billboards are still in high demand in many parts of the world. We began this piece by declaring that traditional advertising mediums may not be long for this world, but the truth is more complicated. As we ponder the importance of advertising, let’s think for a moment about the possibilities of “hybrid” advertising models.
The truth is, most advertising lives in the digital world, but human beings do not. We commute, we walk around metropolitan areas, and we convene for sporting matches or dinner downtown with friends. This lifestyle means there’s lots of space out there to colonize with branded witticisms, social-media-worthy imagery and more.
You need your brand to straddle the digital and physical realm, which means a clever enough billboard may well go viral with just a little push — and a poster or pop-up display with a QR code can provide an unexpected boost in traffic to your web properties from a decidedly “old-school” ad medium.
4. It’s Easy to Share Compelling Ad Content in a Digital World
The phrase “going viral” might be an artifact of the digital age, but the underlying concept is very old indeed. Urban legends have always spread quickly by word of mouth — and the invention of the printing press allowed the rapid dissemination of documents such as Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses,” which would have taken literal ages to spread throughout Europe by word of mouth and hand-transcription alone.
The point is, the technology of the digital age makes it ludicrously easy to spread information, including advertising content, to the general public — and help it reach the folks with whom it will resonate the most. Even an apparent afterthought, such as including share widgets for the most popular social platforms, can yield huge dividends and give your content a life of its own as people save it, share it and remix it all across the Web.
5. Digital Advertising Lets You Choose Your Audience
Based on user statistics from 2018, Facebook was still the number one most popular social service or network. YouTube and Instagram placed in the top 10 and Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn and Pinterest performed admirably as well.
Now, think back to the 1900s, when billboards were a big deal. If we trace advertising mediums even further back, we find newspaper ads, handbills and town criers. What these methods all have in common is their “scattershot” approach to capturing the public’s attention. Every fifteenth handbill might drive foot traffic to your store. A newspaper ad might do a little better, but it’s still a “fire away and hope for the best” kind of situation.
The point of mentioning the relative popularity of social networks was to drive home the idea that digital advertisers can more or less choose their audiences these days and select the most relevant platform for reaching them. A company that wants to reach the tech-savvy might put together an infographic and work toward getting traction on Reddit. If you cater to home decorators and the DIY crowd, Pinterest might be more your speed.
6. You Have a Chance to Tell the Whole Story
There’s just not enough space in a one-page magazine advertisement to tell the whole story of your product or service and the role it can play or the problem it can solve. And that’s to say nothing of the story behind your company, the people who drive its success and your commitment to the community and your chosen social values. Another reason for advertising’s importance in the digital age involves the chance to tell a more complete story.
Compared with yesterday’s much less subtle forms of advertising — “Here’s our product!” “Here’s what it does!” “Buy it now!” — digital advertising gives you an opportunity to build credibility with your audience.
Sure, your prospective customers may still hear about your product or service for the first time thanks to a sidebar ad or even a message on the radio, but you can supplement that first impression with detailed product videos, a well-put-together “how it’s made” page on your website or a series of cheeky blog posts where your audience can learn more about the folks who work for your company and drive its success.
Long story short? Advertising is crucial and thriving in the digital age because it can remind the public that there are genuine people behind the brands and that they’re working to make the world better — or more interesting, or our lives more convenient — in some small way.
7. You Can Cut Through the Noise
Want more proof of the importance of advertising? Consider that the average consumer is better prepared than ever — and more willing than ever to “do their homework” before plunking down their cash. The truth is, advertising in the digital age is a double-edged sword: The more brands engaging in it, the less effective everybody’s efforts become. It’s important to advertise well because, after people find your brand for the first time, they’ll use the other channels at their disposal to “triangulate” and find out everything they can about you.
Consider what might happen if a local burger joint gets their business listed on Google Maps and calls it a day. Hungry commuters might find you in their maps app. However, what if they haven’t heard of you anywhere else? What if you haven’t built up your website with welcoming graphic design and a compelling story? And what if you don’t seem to be mentioned on any review or social websites? Well, they might gloss over you entirely in favor of another eatery that’s done a better job of establishing itself.
8. It’s Easier to Define and Measure Success
There are ways to measure the success of traditional advertising campaigns — in foot traffic, for example — but it can be substantially more difficult to draw a strong correlation between your marketing efforts and various metrics of success. Maybe you saw an uptick in sales over the course of a month. But did people respond to your billboard? Your pop-up display? Your radio ad?
Learning how to market yourself in the digital age also requires that you learn the ropes — the basics, at least — of analytics platforms like the one offered by Google.
It may take some practice before you’re navigating your Google Analytics dashboard like a seasoned pro, but once you do, the potential is huge. You can dive into your customers’ time on various product pages, find out which channels drive the most traffic, determine what kind of landing page is most effective and ultimately learn more about where to spend your effort and money for the greatest impact.
9. Digital Advertising Means Video — and Video Works
Need more proof of the importance of advertising in the digital age? Take a look at the statistics surrounding the consumption of video content. In the U.S., adults spend six hours per day, on average, watching online video content. And there’s more: After watching product videos, 64 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase that product.
It would be pretty hard to understate the importance of video in modern advertising, actually. By 2022, video will likely represent 82 percent of all internet traffic. That’s a staggering amount of content — and a huge amount of potential that didn’t exist in the age of static, one-page ads in local papers and magazines.
A Level Playing Field?
The digital age provides a host of useful tools for companies looking to make a splash, but your competitors have access to those same tools. The Web isn’t exactly a level playing field though — the “secret sauce” that most advertisers forget about is genuine creativity. Without that, none of the techniques and tools we’ve looked at here today will mean much. You’ve got technology on your side, but it’s worthless if you’re not being thoughtful about how to put it to work.
About The Author
The Designerly staff is committed to providing well-researched and ongoing learning resources. We're dedicated to educating you on key design concepts and showcasing strategic marketing plans to help grow your business.