Net Narcissism and Other Internet Hangovers

Oh, Rishad.

The claim that I respectfully described as “a bit bogus” is that the Internet is the most addictive medium since television. That’s like saying that “e” is the biggest thing to hit the alphabet since “d.”

Whether true or not, it’s lame. In fact, the whole “addiction” theme you’re trying to mine here seems like a scenic detour. “Teenagers would rather give up food than Internet access.” I’m sure they’d also become apoplectic if you took away their phones. “The more years people spend on the Net, the more time they spend on the Net.” Not proof of “addiction,” just of familiarity. And so what? If anything, pointing out that 18 percent of U.S. homes are responsible for 50+ percent of page views just underlines the point that Internet advertising can be a dangerous exercise in narrowcasting.

But, of course, as it becomes faster and easier more people will use it. As those of us with rural homes who can’t get high-speed access via anything but satellite wait for the rain to stop, and people in my building on the Lower East Side who can’t get Road Runner wait for our downloads to come in over the phone line, we’ll comfort ourselves with that thought.

Addiction isn’t relevant. People like their favorite media. They usually have more than one favorite. But an addiction contest between the Internet and other media will lead to the triumph of television. Television is the cocaine, the heroin, the after-work cocktail, and the chocolate bonbon of media, all rolled into one. An average of 7 hours and 47 minutes a day.

This addiction is nothing to be proud of, but there you have it.

The “push” vs. “pull” question is more relevant. And I agree with you that the Internet is a sparkling example of the consumer benefits of “pull.” But most Internet advertisers still don’t sell it that way. Most sell it like direct mail, and I’ve yawned through numerous meetings to that effect. They focus on counting things that may or may not actually lead to important ends like brand preference or purchase, simply because they can.

Don’t confuse what I’ve said about Internet advertising with a vilification of the Internet as a medium. I love the medium. I personally raise the American average of time spent on the Internet. Much of that time (as is probably true for most people) is work-related, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the truly unique and positive things it brings to work and to life.

And I actually love the Internet as an advertising venue. I recommend it to most clients—usually as part of an integrated media plan. But it’s still working out some kinks. It’s “evolving,” as you so proudly noted. My main peeve is this: Just as my Internet clients two years ago were full of ridiculous overclaims about how their Web-based whatsit was going to alter the world as we know it, Internet ad sales tend to overclaim what the medium can and should be used for.

As media convergence becomes more of a reality, as I hope it will, I fully expect that Internet salespeople will demand the credit (as you put it “we’ll take over the guts of all electronic media and advertising”) like a smaller tribe intermarrying with a larger and claiming that the resultant generations are theirs and theirs alone. It’s the most annoying hangover of the Internet era, Net Narcissism.

Robin D. Hafitz