Online advertisers as content aggregators

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Some people just are not fans of click-through rates. I met a few last week during ad:tech New York, but Reuters writer Felix Salmon has added himself to the lot. To absolve advertisers of underperforming click-through rates, Salmon writes that online ads should function as bite-sized content aggregators. 

“Start placing that ad over the web, and people will, for the first time, actually have a reason to want to look at your ad; when they see it, they're even likely to click on it! Sure, that click won't take them to your site — but it's still a great measure of engagement. And they will love you for sending them to great content,” writes Salmon.

Salmon's solution is oriented toward brand advertisers who (at least anecdotally) are less concerned with click-through rates than direct marketers and therefore more willing to sacrifice site conversions in exchange for, ahem, brand loyalty. The impressions-versus-clicks debate notwithstanding, what threw me about Salmon's proposal is whether such a publisher-oriented strategy could work for advertisers.

Right now everyone wants to befriend consumers drowning in content by surfacing relevant stories rather than leaving consumers to sift for themselves. Not only have publishers added content aggregator widgets as Salmon mentions, but in recent months AOL and Yahoo have rolled out news aggregator iPad apps to rival Flipboard. And social has created another layer to aggregation, with Google and Microsoft increasingly socializing search results by enlisting consumers' social networks to function as aggregators.

While it's natural for brands to want to serve as consumers' allies in all things including content deluge, it's not a given that advertisers enter the aggregation fray. For one thing, what content would Coca-Cola aggregate? Probably not health and wellness articles. Behaviorally or contextually targeted ads could help to answer that question, but that would likely involve additional audience segmenting/targeting (at least at first) on top of the bigger issue of identifying what specific content to aggregate. Relevancy further compounds the problem because advertisers will need to determine how often they want to update content aggregated in their ads.

These are solvable problems but not easily so. Brands would likely turn to their social media channels and display ad analytics in determining what type of content to aggregate and then create auto-refreshing feeds to surface content to include in ads. To determine and execute refresh rates is more involved but not necessarily out of automation's reach.

Having stated my issues with Salmon's suggestion, I don't think his is a terrible one. Unless you're a journalist covering digital marketing, display ads are too easy to ignore without fear of missing something. Revamping ads as content aggregators could instill a sense of value that over time could scale up to the point that consumers pay attention to ads as much as the content they're placed alongside—or at least to the point that I could tell you unaided what ads ran alongside Salmon's post.

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