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As the internet and digital media become ubiquitous, some conventional advertising platforms are becoming obsolete.

Digital marketing may provide the answer that many marketers are looking for, but what kind of strategy lends itself best to the cyber-landscape?

The answer, surprisingly, may lie with an organization that isn’t always associated with digital-prowess: the NBA.

Nowadays, before any video starts, a pre-roll advertisement takes control of your video feed. This isn't extraordinary; after all, YouTube has been leveraging its popularity to bring in advertising revenue since 2006, and pre-roll ads have been around for almost as long.

However this advert was different in that it began when a closeup of Bill Simmons' face. The famous sports columnist, analyst, author, and founder of the popular, popped up onto my screen. He looked me in the eye and asked me why I would be surfing YouTube, when I could have been watching the NBA Finals on ABC.

Then, as quickly and inexplicably as it started, the ad ended, leaving me to the video content I initially came for yet I was still had the direct impression of the short ad on the top of my mind. My experience wasn’t an isolated incident; during the NBA Finals, ABC dialed up their marketing efforts.

Other YouTube pre-roll commercials during the NBA Finals included ones which specifically were designed to poke fun at various YouTube content genres.

For example, if someone clicked on video content featuring video games, a relevant NBA ad would roll; one where Bill Simmon and Jalen Rose joked for 15 seconds about how crazy it is to want to watch someone else play a video game (which is pretty big talk coming from two guys whose livelihood depends upon people wanting to watch other people play sports).

Other YouTube genres that were preceded by NBA Finals advertisements included movie trailers and music videos, and each advertisement followed the same “make fun of the viewer” format. And while it may seem strange that ABC would spend marketing dollars to mock YouTube patrons who were watching online videos, there is method to the madness.

Pre-roll advertisements may seem like a great way to sneak in a quick commercial before allowing viewers to see the content they came for, but internet users can be a bit resistent about avoiding some of the clumsier common marketing attempts. They install ad-blocking software, click the little “X” icon on popups before they’ve even completely loaded. Plus, we've been ignoring banner ads almost as long as they've existed.


Going along with this trend, 80–85% of YouTube viewers choose to skip roll-over advertisements as soon as the option presents itself. So why bother getting two respected sports analysts to heckle viewers? Simple: because when viewers catch a glimpse of charismatic and entertaining individuals making fun of them, their interest is peaked. They stick around for the entire 15 seconds, and once the ad has finished, the viewer is left a bit more aware that the NBA Finals were in full swing.

ABC and the NBA haven’t placed all of their eggs in one basket. In addition to the YouTube advertisements, they also spread their marketing dollars to encompass other forms of digital promotion, specifically social media.

Facebook users that follow the NBA Facebook page were able to use the Live Video platform to directly ask players questions during periods of media availability. Twitter offered in game video highlights (a little something they developed for March Madness) under the hashtag #NBARapidReplay.

Marketers haven’t forgotten about the other social media sites, either. Fans of Flipagram, Reddit, Snapchat, and others were all able to enjoy NBA related content during the Finals. Add to that NBA produced apps targeted at mobile users and the more-conventional online advertisements that we’re bound to see, and you had a recipe for an airtight digital marketing strategy. And yes, even those aforementioned banner ads and popups got to play a valuable part.

So, the real question wasn’t -- Why did ABC and the NBA put so much focus on digital marketing for the Finals? -- but rather -- Why don’t other brands put as much focus into their digital marketing efforts all the time?

When was the last time you were influenced by any form of conventional advertising? If you still watch television on cable (instead of using an online streaming service such as Netflix), then there’s a good chance that you make use of a digital video recorder (DVR) to skip the commercials that intrude upon your watching experience. Even if you don’t have a Tivo, then you’re still likely to change the channel or use the commercial break to go make yourself a snack or use the restroom.

Even those who don’t skip the ads or leave the room are often inattentive during commercials; with 30–40% of viewers opting to use mobile smart devices during programing breaks. Likewise, conventional radio is slowly being overshadowed by satellite radio and personal digital music devices, leaving radio advertisers with a steadily shrinking audience.

Newspapers haven’t fared even this well, with their current advertising revenue now sitting at its lowest point since 1950. Magazine sales are plummeting as well. Given that most of these trends are a direct result of the rise of digital media, it only makes sense that advertisers would want to make the jump over to digital marketing, and in many cases, they have.

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In 2013, 55% of marketers worldwide increased their digital marketing budgets and it is expected that by 2015, internet advertising will account for a fourth of the entire ad market. That’s quite a bit, when you think about it. However, take a look at how much time the average American spends online in one day and then compare it to the amount of time they spend enjoying traditional media such as television and radio—approximately half of their total media time is spent digitally.

To recap: 50% of media time is spent online (or with a mobile smart device), but currently less than 25% of the ad market is focused on digital marketing.

Seems a bit lopsided, doesn’t it? In a way, it’s understandable. After all, in the few decades that the internet has been generally available, it’s had a greater overall impact on society than possibly any other invention since the printing press. As a result, marketers are finding that methods which have worked for half a century are suddenly no longer yielding acceptable results. But that’s just the nature of the game; you either adapt and survive, or you go extinct. It may sound harsh, but that’s how business works.

Now it’s only a question of which brands will decide to follow suit in their marketing and sales process and which will stubbornly stick with marketing strategies that are quickly losing their viability.

Traditional advertising isn’t dead, but it certainly isn’t the primary method of advertisement that comes to mind anymore and in the championship game of marketing, the winning team will likely be the one that knows where its consumer base spends most of its time and is capable of directing the majority of their efforts toward that target. Even if quasi-offensive pre-roll ads on YouTube may not exactly be the answer, the digital marketing age is the future.