Content Marketing Vs. Display Advertising

Reading Time: 4 minutesIt’s about time we busted a few myths on digital marketing. The amount of information at our fingertips at any given time is expanding and who is providing that information may astonish you. Have you been scouring the web for that perfect new dinner recipe that everyone will be raving about? Maybe you should try Taste, an online lifestyle and recipe blog curated by the team at Williams-Sonoma. Or maybe you are on a road trip with friends and need a clean, public restroom? Download the Sit or Squat mobile app by Charmin that helps you rate and share bathrooms across the country. Traveling to a new city and want to find the perfect brunch spot or bakery? Then check-out Airbnb’s neighborhood guides which provide practical information and help you discover hidden gems in each city you choose to explore. Surprised that your new go-to spot for the latest content and helpful tips is from your favorite brand? Turns out, you shouldn’t be. Content marketing, or the art of communicating with consumers by adding valuable experiences and information is significantly on the rise compared to traditional display advertising.

Display advertising has long been thought of as the easiest and most effective way to reach consumers by pushing out information, often in small fragments. Display ads can be text ads, digital banners or videos, and they appear in distinct sections on a site that are typically reserved for paid advertisements. The main focus of these ads is to sell the consumer and generate a quick conversion. Billions of dollars are spent every year on display advertising, but that number is decreasing as marketers are spending more of their budgets on developing content marketing strategies and building communities around quality content.

Content marketing can take the shape of anything from blogs, articles, reviews, e-books, graphics and videos; really it can be any medium where the purpose is to create a value exchange with the consumer. Recently, companies have made a huge shift in their marketing budgets to spend more on content marketing–many of them big names like Coca Cola and Microsoft focusing over a quarter of their budgets on these types of strategies.

Why is display advertising becoming less relevant? There are several reasons. For one, despite marketers’ attempts to create more immersive and disruptive display ads (think large screen video ads and interactive banners that interrupt the viewing experience), consumers are becoming trained to ignore these placements. Our eyes know these common areas of the site where ads are typically located and instead focus on the content-rich portions of the site. We are so accustomed to skimming over these ads that the likelihood of a consumer actually clicking on a display ad is very minuscule. According to HubStop, who aggregated some rather unique stats on display advertising, you are more likely to summit Mount Everest, survive a plane crash or birth twins than click a banner ad. Additionally, almost 50% of clicks on mobile ads are accidental.1 With all that wasted money spent on display advertising, it only makes sense that marketers are getting smarter about how they engage with consumers.

Secondly, display ads are incredibly weak branding vehicles. Almost everyone can recognize an ad instantly and know that the motive behind it is to sell a product or service. On the flip side, content marketing is designed to deliver a more meaningful experience to the consumer without any strings attached. By doing so, companies garner more trust and become the authority in that subject field. Not surprisingly, companies like Williams-Sonoma and Charmin are providing content that is related to the products and services they are offering. Companies stick to content that is close to their core competencies allowing consumers to easily correlate their brand with adding value and becoming a thought leader in that area. It is also a seamless transition to generate leads, which is why–per-dollar–content marketing produces roughly three times as many leads as display advertising.2

Thirdly, unlike display ads that last on average 1.6 seconds, consumers spend almost 345 times longer engaging with branded content.3 This means longer time engaging with the brand, which in turn leads to a higher quality of customers. In some instances, these consumers become somewhat of an ambassador or brand champion by as they share relative and useful information with other friends and family. This type of sharing creates lasting content marketing impressions as the content can be carried on through social media channels and other content sharing platforms. Companies are building organic communities around these loyal consumers and as a result 78% of consumers perceive a relationship between themselves and a company.2 What display ads lack in time and durability, they try to make up for in the volume at which they’re delivered by having brands purchase millions of impressions at low-cost rates. On average, each person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month.1 Do you remember any? Don’t feel bad; we don’t either.

Now that we have busted some common myths on display advertising, what should we expect for content marketing in the future? Companies should be pulling their audiences in with rich content experiences that focus less on their brand and more about creating a true value exchange. By thinking about the consumer first and the conversion vehicle second, companies will be more apt to provide buzz worthy content that will accelerate the brand to the top of consumers’ minds. Additionally, companies should focus more on content skills rather than content strategy by investing in a meaningful mission rather than a metric-driven mentality. Great content marketing should also be a combination of sponsored content and consumer generated content. By allowing consumers to socialize with the brand and likeminded peers, share their opinions and–in some cases–become content experts themselves–all parties win. Companies can gain real consumer insights by listening to consumer opinions and preferences, while consumers become more loyal to brands that are seen as partners and valuable contributors.

Wherever the future of content marketing is headed, one thing is for certain: it clearly isn’t going away anytime soon. And why would we want it to? As consumers, we benefit more from the added value that companies are providing. As companies, we are generating stronger, higher quality leads and are creating lasting impressions through more durable and valuable content. What digital marketing myth will we bust next?


Jessica Stewart is a highly passionate (and always caffeinated) advertising professional who loves using her super sleuth skills to bust through digital advertising myths.  A South Carolina native, she is currently located in New York and when not training for a marathon, enjoys working with tech start-ups, TaskRabbiting, and reading great blogs such as this one.

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