With Teeth: the death of display ads – and what we can do about it

This article was originally posted as a With Teeth opinion piece over on Music Ally.

I’ve had a couple of very interesting discussions recently regarding advertising in general, but also with specific reference to music websites. The suggestion from some site owners is that the income generated by display ads is in decline, and this raises the question of how exactly they are to survive in years to come if this trend continues.

The problem lies within the display advertising networks and the fact that the banner ad is now on its last legs as a medium to effectively promote your product to people. But what are the alternatives?

Bizarrely it would seem (to me anyway) that only one company of late – Buzzfeed – has genuinely addressed the advertising problem with a solution that actually seems to work for both the advertisers and the website carrying the content. If you’ve not already I would strongly recommend reading their CEO Jonah Peretti’s strategy document which outlines their approach perfectly and gives a huge amount of insight into an advertising model that could actually work in the future.

So what is their solution? Quite simply it is to create content in collaboration with the advertisers that Buzzfeed feels will appropriately draw interest from their viewing audience. A good recent example is a new cartoon show “Black Dynamite”, starting on the Adult Swim channel in the US. To mark this launch, their advertising strategy with Buzzfeed was to create a post of “The 10 Grooviest Cartoons of the 1970s“. Rather than hit people over the head with the messaging for their new show, this strategy takes a more subtle approach which certainly appears to chime more with the way people view and engage with advertising in 2012. The awareness for the product is made but in a far more subtle manner.

How does this relate to the music sites I mentioned? To me Buzzfeed’s approach demonstrates a strategy that could potentially show the future for music websites too – and indeed most ad-funded websites in general. The devil is in the detail, of course, but what if these sites were to, for example, create  content with bigger brands seeking to connect with the more niche, tastemaker audiences? The critical differentiator (for me anyway) is that the websites themselves must play a part in creating the content that is presented as part of the advertorial. The content also should not sit above all other content as display ads do, but should instead be part of the editorial in exactly the same way as Buzzfeed have demonstrated.**

Really I think Buzzfeed has simply understood something that most of us also know but which few advertisers particularly wish to acknowledge, namely that simply browbeating people over the head with your messages does not connect them with your brand. To really generate connection you must put time and effort to creating content that connects with a websites audience on their terms.

So could this work for music websites? It’s certainly debatable. A friend of mine when discussing this recently pointed out that in his opinion the value around these websites simply isn’t as great as other larger sites that brands would target. He may have a point; the state of display ads is such that you can now talk a much larger platforms a much more reasonable rates. Another colleague also pointed out that social networks have proven a very fertile space for brands to advertise in a highly cost-effective manner, meaning they have less reason to advertise with smaller niche sites such as those I am discussing. Any which way, at this juncture it is clear that the display ad revenue is declining for all such websites, and as a consequence disruptive new mechanisms need to be found through which sites can partner with brands to create solutions that work for all involved.

Buzzfeed has shown the way with its own innovative (or should that be common sense?) solution, but it is now down to our own music websites to try and establish what could work for them and while this may be a rocky road ahead I’m still confident that a profitable solution for all involved can be found. It has to be; a future without them is unthinkable in my opinion. Just like independent record stores they provide the colour, the attitude and the variety that we desperately need in order to maintain a thriving, culturally healthy music landscape.

Of course this is only my opinion. I’m very keen to hear from those of you reading this as to what your solutions may be around this tricky problem. Have you got suggestion? If so leave it in the comments below and let’s get this discussion started. Or, let’s take it to Twitter where you can find me here: @mr_trick.




(dictated using Mountain Lion’s rather spiffy new dictation tool)



**sidenote: bizarrely a publication that actually predated Buzzfeed’s strategy by a good 15 or 20 years if not more, was Viz magazine. They realised that standard advertising would not work within the context of their content, and therefore sought to work with the advertisers to create ads which were funny, engaging and not totally incongruent to their irreverent stance. Anyone else remember the “You can’t miss with Armitage Shanks” ads?




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.