Digital advertising is the best thing that ever happened to advertising
industry, right? Not so according to Frederic Filloux in a piece that
was published by the Washington Post this weekend.

Filloux cites two major problems: poor design, and the process by which
online ads are bought and sold. With the former, he points to the
popularity of ad blockers as evidence that online ads generally “act as
repellents to readers.
” With the latter, Filloux notes that “most
technology aspects of the advertising business have slipped out of the
hands of those who were supposed to own them.

Sure, there is no shortage of horrid banner ads and generally uninspired campaigns, and there are plenty of things to complain about when it comes to how ads are bought and sold online, but does that mean that digital advertising is “lousy“, as Filloux states? Of course not.

There are numerous ways to dissect Filloux’s argument, but I’ll take the easiest: return on investment. It’s a phrase that, somewhat surprisingly, Filloux doesn’t mention once in his piece.

Advertising isn’t about innovation and technology, nor is it about imagination and design. At the end of the day, the purpose of advertising is to sell products, services and ideas. Sure, innovation, technology, imagination and design can all be important components of effective advertising effective (and they usually are), but in and of themselves, they don’t move the needle.

When it comes to selling, it’s pretty darn difficult to call digital advertising “lousy.” There’s a logical reason that businesses collectively spend billions of dollars on search, display and CPA advertising every year: many of them are making money from their digital advertising initiatives.

Using the lowest hanging fruit — search advertising — as an example, Google recently estimated that, on average, AdWords advertisers generate $2 in revenue for every $1 spent on AdWords. Furthermore, Google calculates that the total return on investment is $8 for every dollar spent. For those who don’t like estimates, it doesn’t take too much effort to find numerous case studies from real businesses that are using AdWords to drive revenue.

Search isn’t alone. Long written off, recent studies hint that even the lowly display ad may do more to boost sales than previously thought. Last year, for instance, comScore announced that studies it conducted showed that online display ads were “on par with TV advertising” in driving purchases of CPG products.

Given all of the quantitative evidence that online ads can be effective, and the fact that a growing number of businesses are voting with their wallets to allocate more of their advertising budgets to digital, it seems somewhat foolish to brand digital advertising “lousy.” That is not to say that Filloux doesn’t make some valid criticisms of it. Digital advertising isn’t perfect, and there will always be plenty of room for improvement.

But for those involved in digital advertising, it seems far less constructive to have an academic discussion of all the negatives. Instead, we should be focused on identifying what works and finding ways to build scalable campaigns that deliver ROI. Businesses that advertise successfully do this in every medium, and nobody should expect the internet to be any different.