A couple of decades ago, someone who wanted to sell a product or promote their business had one really good option: They could go down to the local newspaper’s office and pay for an ad in the Classifieds section. But around the turn of the millennium, print newspaper advertising started to plummet, and it’s never really recovered. It went from about $60 billion to $20 billion, a number that’s hard to comprehend. Newspapers can’t really run without advertising, which means staffers have been laid off or lost to attrition, and pay freezes can stay in place for years as reporters struggle on wages that are barely above minimum wage. Where did all that advertising money go, anyway? Like a lot of things, it went to the Internet.
Think about where you view ads now. For most of us, the answer is going to be on a screen instead of on printed material. TVs are screens, but they’re also lagging behind as more and more consumers become part of the cord-cutting revolution. Whether it’s a laptop, smartphone, or tablet, we’re getting most of our brand exposure through digital means. A landlord seeking to find new tenants can advertise rental property for free with just a few clicks of a mouse. There’s no need to go down to a newspaper office and wait in line. In most places, it’s not even necessary to dial the phone and speak to an actual human. In 2016, Internet advertising revenue reached the stratosphere with a record $72.5 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a b. That money isn’t being divided equally like pieces of pie, though. Instead, Google and Facebook are gobbling up most of it.
Mobile advertising is especially popular. Think about your favorite smartphone game, whether it involves furious feathered creatures or sweet treats getting smashed. You play a game and get a score, or you move onto the next level, and then what happens? The game pauses and a new screen pops up. A countdown often appears in the corner to let you know that the ad you’re about to view is 30 seconds or 15 seconds long. You don’t have to pay a lot of attention to the ad, but the fact that it exists means someone is making money.
How customers use ads now
Few people will admit to liking ads, not unless they work in marketing or sales. But the fact remains that we all depend on them to some degree. In the “olden days,” if we wanted to find an exterminator, we had to haul out the yellow pages book and turn to the “E” section, where there would be ads mixed in with the normal listings. Nowadays, we have all the information we need on our phone. If we got involved in a car wreck in a college town in the Northwest, we can open our Internet browser and easily find auto body repair services in Corvallis, OR. Ads will usually appear at the top of our results, leaving us to either click on the ads or keep scrolling. When we use Facebook, we’ll see ads for local businesses mixed in with our usual updates from friends. If you’ve recently searched for tickets to the ballet in New Jersey, you might later see an ad for Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Montclair, NJ. The Internet uses the things we search for and click on to curate a custom mix of ads that try to appeal to each person’s specific tastes. That concerns Internet privacy advocates, but it’s a trend that shows few signs of slowing down anytime soon.