Imagine if someone completely sane, someone you knew and trusted, told you that Luxemburg, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Germany, Chile, Togo, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Guatemala, Slovenia and Yemen were a bigger country than Brazil. How would you respond?
I expect you might point out that they have listed a load of very different countries, not one country, and that to try and pass off these places – with their different geographies, languages, industries, folklores, traditions, cuisines and ethnicities – as a single entity is not even a subtle sleight of hand. It is simply absurd, untrue, and meaningless.
What if, despite your reasoning, they continued insisting that ‘it’ was bigger than Brazil? What if they went on to say that ‘it’ is also bigger than China? And what if the media started reporting this as a fact and people started saying that Brazil is threatened by this? That China is in peril?
That is the feeling I get whenever someone says the internet is bigger than radio, or newspapers, or TV or any other medium. Because the internet is not a single anything. That is part of what makes it so wonderful.
The internet is a technology which enables countless things to happen: filling in a tax form, downloading a film, playing games, your weekly shop, favouriting a tweet, trolling a celebrity, Googling yourself. To say filling out a tax form is the same as playing a game because they share a technology is ridiculously reductive. It is like saying fishing is the same as netball because they both use nets.
What is true of the internet in general is equally true of marketing online. Whichever way you look at it, a banner ad is not the same as paid-for search or an email marketing campaign. To put them together is plain wrong-headedness. Yet the internet continues to be lumped together as though it is a single thing – most recently here. How can this still happen?
I can just about appreciate why it happened in the beginning, when marketing online was tiny, new and less diverse. Aggregating it all then made some sense, though arguably not a lot. But now?
Search was worth £3.77 billion in 2014 according to the IAB, which lists 14 different internet advertising disciplines on its website. That’s over half of all the money spent on marketing via the internet. Surely we can talk about search as search and never have to lump it together with so many other dissimilar and smaller online activities.
It makes even less sense when media like radio, news brands and TV are all happily and successfully using internet technology themselves as a way to distribute their content.
It is time to disaggregate ‘online advertising’ for good and stop adding it all up as though that means something. It doesn’t and it is driving me (Brazil) nuts.