I used to read the ads

When I was a kid, I loved magazines. I was curious about everything and in the 80s and 90s – before the internet — there was a magazine for everything. I got magazines about photography, sailing, model railroading, computers, science, cars, bicycling, comics, art, baseball cards and more. If you wanted to learn about a topic, magazines were a cheap and easy way to find out more. In fact, I read MacUser before I could ever afford my first Mac.

I’d read them cover to cover. And that often included the ads. Ads were an integral part of the experience because they were targeted directly at the magazine’s audience. The ads complimented and supplemented the editorial content.

Some of those magazines are still around*, but blogs and online content are much more efficient ways to gather information, especially for beginners.

Today, ads on blogs are more like billboards than the niche, targeted magazine ads. Many of these blogs serve ads that are from a network and most of those ads have no real connection to the blog’s topic. 

Network buys allow advertisers to serve ads only to a target demographic. This seems like a dream situation for many advertisers, but reaching niche audiences is much more difficult. It’s hard to identify from demographics or browsing history who is interested in a topic like cameras or fountain pens.

I’ve been listening to podcasts lately. Podcasts about topics like fountain pens, pencils and space. The ads that run on these podcasts are like the old magazine ads — they support and compliment the editorial content. And as a result, I’ve made purchases based on recommendations from ads on podcasts. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a purchasing decision based on a random banner ad.

Context matters. If I was a media buyer today, I’d look closely at podcasting and tightly curated ad networks. They might be the best fit for online advertising to niche markets.

* Still around, but much harder to find. Newsstands are gone in most parts of the country. Bookstores aren’t as common. Grocery stores have smaller and smaller selections of publications.