Digital Advertising Is Essential to Small Businesses — and at Risk

The pandemic drove this point home, as digital advertising and marketing, including targeted ads, email, social media, websites, and e-commerce platforms helped many small businesses survive.

I’m a Phoenix, Arizona, digital marketing and advertising consultant, a small business owner myself, who assists other small business owners to reach deeper into local markets, expand geographically, and make more sales.

Leveling the playing field

Many of my clients wouldn’t be able to advertise at all without digital advertising. Print, radio, and TV are too expensive, not to mention inefficient. Using anonymous, aggregated data available on social media, search, and other platforms, my clients have increased revenue by as much as 40%.

Unlike traditional advertising, digital advertising, which leads customers directly to the point of sale, enables us to gauge results and make improvements. At no time in history have such large audiences, media platforms, market research, and creative tools been available to any start-up, entrepreneur, or mom-and-pop shop.

Some of my clients spend just a few hundred dollars. Sitting on the Advisory Council of Internet for Growth, a nationwide small business coalition advocating for digital advertising, I’ve met small business owners who spend nothing at all to build organic audiences on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, and improve their bottom lines. Of course, a good product and personality help.

Not only is interactive, digital advertising more cost-effective than the traditional kind, but it can also be more authentic, an avenue for unique products, points of view, and instant feedback. The value to the average consumer or internet surfer is immense.

Internet for Growth includes web publishers and content creators — everyone from food bloggers to game developers — able to offer their content for free, thanks to digital advertising revenue. A study by two M.I.T. researchers shows the average American receives almost $30,000 of free, ad-supported news, entertainment, email, navigation, and more each year.

Other research shows most Americans appreciate the personalization and convenience of targeted digital advertising. The more personalized and convenient an ad for your favorite restaurant or band on your favorite streaming program is, for example, the more valuable it is to both buyer and seller.

Under attack

Just as innovation and opportunities are increasing, however, digital advertising is under attack in Washington, D.C., where legislation and regulation to punish a few big tech companies could have unintended consequences for everyone.

Congress and federal agencies have introduced a slew of bills and proposed regulations to restrict or eliminate data-driven, relevant advertising. Our members support a national data privacy bill to simplify a complicated patchwork of state laws, but the one Congress recently considered would preserve state laws, potentially outlaw publicly available information, and expose small businesses to fines and lawsuitsCosts to the U.S. economy could be severe.

Another piece of legislation would break up integrated advertising services that finally solved the problem of too many opportunities for small businesses, making ad-buying and selling on countless websites easy. Based on the idea that digital advertising is “unfair” and “deceptive,” other bills and rules are worse.

The Federal Trade Commission recently described the entire internet as “commercial surveillance.” Over a thousand members of Internet for Growth can attest to the power of the free-and-open internet and digital advertising to transform lives, but both parties in Washington appear fixated on reversing progress.

Is it because ordinary people now have access to marketing and media channels previously accessible to only the most powerful institutions? Our coalition is fighting to protect digital advertising tools that have leveled the playing field for small business owners of every background and industry.