Hacking online advertising

Two recent ads contradict common attitudes and hint at something bigger.

I gloss over the text ads that appear at the top of Gmail, but this one caught my eye:

Mike Arrington ad

I think it’s clear I’m not the founder of TechCrunch. In that sense the ad failed to reach its intended audience. But I did notice the ad. I even clicked through. And in the world of infinite web inventory and diminishing attention, that counts as a win.

Now, will this work again? Probably not. I’m on to it, and “clever” has an expiration date.

Yet, there’s something to be said for of-the-moment creativity: the actions and initiatives that only work once. The best recent example of this is Alec Brownstein’s job search.

As the following video shows, Brownstein spent $6 on ads targeting the names of five creative directors:

It worked. Brownstein landed a job at Y&R New York.

I’ll admit, these examples earn little more than a chuckle and passing admiration when taken on their own. But there’s more going on here. The creativity hints at something much bigger.

These are ad hacks

Web 2.0 Expo New York - 20% off with code RadarOnline advertising has big problems. That’s clear. Audiences are too dispersed and browsing habits are too entrenched for traditional models to take hold. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk response has been a mix of shoe-banging rhetoric and ill-advised projects.

Both of the examples I noted above are relevant because they represent counterpoints to grand and bold declarations of demise.

The people behind these ads took a system many believe is irreparably damaged and calibrated it for their specific needs. They didn’t rail on and on about the need for a new model. They didn’t passively seek salvation in a new device. Instead, they got to work and hacked online advertising.

Will either of these efforts “save” media? No. Absolutely not. And that’s not the point.

It’s the mindset that matters: worming inside a system and moving pieces around to make it do what you want it to. This mindset, which isn’t a hallmark of entrenched media, is why the future will be determined by upstarts who don’t realize — and perhaps don’t care — that they’re reinventing an industry.


The future of online advertising will be discussed at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York, running Sept. 27-30. Save 20% on registration with the discount code “Radar”.

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