Two Truths About Today’s Internet (and Why They Matter to Brands)

Posted by Spencer Ball on August 20th, 2013 at 7:00 am

When you take a look at recent internet demographic and site-user statistics, two truths emerge.

1. The demographics of internet use are in constant evolution and flux.

  • A BlogHer study showed that women are one of the fastest-growing segments of internet users and are fast mobile-adopters. A comScore study shows that women spend 25 percent more time on mobile retail sites than men.
  • Fast-growing Tumblr – recently bought for $1.1 billion by Yahoo – is used by 13 percent of U.S. internet users, according to a Pew study, and Quantcast recently found that 38 percent of its audience is under 24. Many feel that young people are more attracted to the site’s blank-slate, free-form style than to Facebook’s structure.
  • The 74-and-older demographic is the fastest-growing segment on American social networks, according to a Pew study, and one out of eight Twitter users is over 50 – a number that will increase.

2. The popularity of top sites is unpredictable.

  • The percentage of Pew study respondents on Twitter doubled in the two years before late 2012.
  • Unique visitors on Tumblr quadrupled in two years – although it has been in a gradual decline since the beginning of 2013.
  • Just over four years ago, MySpace.com was the top social site. Twitter was a distant 12. Tumblr was barely on the radar.

For companies that invest in internet properties, these facts help explain why their job is a high-stakes roller-coaster ride. But what does these facts tell consumer brands? Our suggestion is that it’s time to get more agile and strategic in how you express your brands across the internet – especially on social media.

Arguably, too many consumer brands cling to the old-school mentality of advertising, where large segments of the budget were allocated across a few core media – TV, radio, print, promotions – and large-scale programs (such as expensive ad campaigns) ate up much of the dollars and the manpower.

We still see this mindset today on the “pre-roll” ads that greet you on YouTube and ask you to wait before your actual selection starts. These ads typically run 30 seconds or more. They’re often visually complex and slow to develop. Who hasn’t impatiently chosen to skip the ad, deeming it less promising than the coming video, especially when the point of the ad isn’t quickly clear?

An Ask Your Target Market survey found that only 5 percent of users always pay attention to pre-roll ads, 14 percent do most of the time and 18 percent never. And users feel that TV ads are more than three times as effective as online video ads.

Why? As analysts have noted, Tumblr is fueled by quick hits – animated GIFs, corny still-photo memes, etc. Even on the “old guy,” Facebook, a billion users know that they have to make their point quickly with a compelling photo, a great quip or a strong first sentence if their scrolling friends are going to stick with their post.

What’s the point here? For starters, it’s time to try pre-roll ads that are five or 10 seconds long – and irresistible. “These are on sale this weekend at Target” with photos (or cartoons, or corny GIF-like animations) scrolling underneath would send a clever message loud and clear. For the big picture, it’s time to carry this quick-hits approach throughout your internet marketing.

The Thing About Creativity

Here’s what Tumblr CEO David Karp said about its acquisition by Yahoo, as reported by TechCrunch. “We have a story that really, truly stands apart from the other big networks right now. … Creative brand advertising has had nowhere to live on the web.”

But it’s not creativity that’s the issue: it’s whether the creativity is suited to the context, as with YouTube pre-roll. So what’s the upshot? If the online advertiser landscape is constantly in flux, and the opportunities to really reach users are quicker, shorter and more spread out, the smarter approach involves a strong brand vision being expressed in quick-hitting fashion by well coordinated creative teams operating on timelines of weeks, days or just hours, in sync with the random genius of the current most-popular sites.

At this time, there are very few brands that fully take advantage of all the digital space has to offer. The more brands are willing to take bolder creative risks online, the more we can learn about what is effective. Given the ability to modify content quickly and to 'test and learn' inexpensively in this arena, taking these creative risks on a small scale is easier and absolutely worth consideration.

In other words, learn something from the five-second animated GIF of a cat falling into a baby pool, especially when it was the high point of your social-media day. And remember, it might have been the high point of your grandmother’s, too.


The 2011 Social Media Matters Study, BlogHer.com, April 11, 2011, http://www.blogher.com/2011-social-media-matters-study

“From Brick-and-Mortar to Mobile Click-and-Order: Which Retailers are Carving Out Space in the M-Commerce Market?” ComScore.com, Sept. 19, 2012,


“The Demographics of Social Media Users – 2012,” Pew Internet & American Life Project, Feb. 14, 2013, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Social-media-users/Social-Networking-Site-Users/Demo-portrait.aspx

Quantcast Tumbr.com statistics accessed June 17, 2013, https://www.quantcast.com/tumblr.com#!demo&anchor=age-gender-container

“Online Video Ads Survey: TV Commercials Still Considered More Effective,” Ask Your Target Market blog post, May 6, 2013, http://aytm.com/blog/daily-survey-results/online-video-ads-survey-2/

“Tumblr’s Teenaged, Double-Edged Sword,” TechCrunch.com, May 6, 2013, http://techcrunch.com/2013/05/06/tumblrs-teenaged-double-edged-sword/

“Social Media: The New Customer Service Channel,” Business2Community.com, May 21, 2013, http://www.business2community.com/social-media/social-media-the-new-customer-service-channel-0500137

Leave a comment