In his article, ‘playing for news’, Meikle outlines three key features of online news – automation, personalisation and participation. He also outlines the proliferation of mobile news and online indymedia. But are these features unique to online news or are they just features of Internet culture generally. The question I pose here is this: can these features apply to the world of online advertising, and if so, how?
Automation is a key feature of internet culture and can be seen in the way people collect news such as RSS feeds and alerts. The proliferation of automation has only increased with the uptake in mobile phones; specifically smart phones with numerous updates constantly alerting us to new content. Advertising is no exception to the spread of automation in the online space. One way automation is used by advertisers is email advertising. When customers buy products online they are asked to opt in or out of automated advertising. Another example of automation in advertising is in targeted advertising. When users browse the internet, companies collect data on their browsing habits in order to target their ads directly at the individual consumer. For instance, Google ads will often display ads related to the last website you have visited. Done properly, it can be an effective advertising tool. On Facebook, for instance people often engage with and share content that is placed on their newsfeed based on their previous likes. However, in some cases it can also be annoying and even a little creepy – its sort of the equivalent to a store assistant following you around to see which products you look at and then offering you similar products based on what you’ve looked at.
Another key feature of internet culture is personalisation. This is particularly the case for social networking, where users design their own personalised pages and build groups of contacts, effectively creating an abstract representation of their lives through media. It is also true in the way users consume media, picking and choosing the content that is useful, interesting or entertaining to them as they surf the web. This makes effective advertising even more important. Consumers wont tolerate boring ads in the online environment, however they will watch ads they find relevant or entertaining. Many of these ads are shared online with friends and become viral, reaching many more consumers than companies could reach via traditional media. Targeted advertising is another form of personalisation online. While advertisers have long customised ads to their target audience and have tried to place them in spaces their consumers will see them, the digital world enables advertisers to target advertising directly to the individual like never before. Some online retailers such as amazon.com, even personalise their whole website based around your previous purchase and search history. But once again, if the advertising is too obvious it wont work. This cannot be stressed enough – no one wants to live in a world like this:
Participation is vital to internet culture, whether it be through blogs, social media, sharing sites, or comments on websites. Internet culture has led to the rise of the prosumer – audiences who simultaneously consume and produce media. The ability to participate is increasingly becoming the default expectation of modern audiences. This is also true of online advertising. When advertisers create content that goes viral, they are using audience participation to sell their product for them. Consumers are also regularly invited to participate in competitions online, provide feedback and sometimes even assist in brand and product development. These days, everyone is a producer of content.
Mobile use has increased exponentially, with more and more people using smart phones to browse the internet. While people used to consume media only in the home, or in the car via radio, they now consume media everywhere – stations, buses, parks, even while walking down the street. This is a good thing for advertising. Because consumers are spending more and more time using media, this dramatically increases the amount of opportunity to reach consumers. But it also demands specialised content, which is still in its infancy. One way advertisers are currently using mobile technology is through QR codes. QR codes are barcodes that appear on products or advertisements, users can scan to be directed to online content where they can find out more information. While some advertisers are using QR codes effectively, many are yet to grasp the technique.
A final aspect of internet culture is inymedia. Indymedia is niche content run by individuals or small groups, many of which could not publish this content without the use of the internet. This is also true of advertising, as it allows start up companies and small businesses the power to advertise their brands and products cheaply. Internet advertising is much cheaper than print, radio or TV, particularly when it is used intelligently such as in viral content and through social media, which is virtually free.
 Meikle, G (2009), ‘News 2.0?’, Interpreting News, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp.170-195.
- A five-step roadmap for using personalisation in ecommerce (econsultancy.com)
- 5 Reasons Why Blocking Ads is Harmful (adpushup.com)