Despite impressive growth for e-commerce, the Web ad slump continues and keeps claiming new victims.
Meanwhile, I'm getting a lot more spam and what I call "semi-spam," email sent by direct marketers I may have bought from once, but to whom I never gave permission to send offers.
What's most interesting, in perusing my spam folder, is how many of these companies once bought ads on the Web but no longer do.
Companies such as Hershey.com, Amazon.com, Half.com, Best Buy, PeeperSleepers, Williams-Sonoma, and Toys "R" Us (just to name those in my spam folder who violated my own personal Terms of Service) were once big buyers of Web ads.
After finding prospects, they stopped. Amazon in particular now seems to restrict ad buys to little buttons on a few major sites and to its affiliates program. It builds the site and blasts "personalized" email to everyone who ever bought something.
These folks basically did what we told them to do. They're benefiting through the recession by maintaining relationships with past customers at a low cost. Click-throughs on semi-spam, while poor, are still not bad. The cost-benefit analysis must look good, otherwise why do it?
As a result, both the quality and creativity of most Web ads have become uneven.
State Farm ran some clever stuff on Weather.com recently, "flooding" screens for 15 seconds before the message ebbed into a banner. When the campaign ended, Weather.com wound up with a Casino-on-Net pop-under.
The Web ad market has become bifurcated. The quality of direct marketing offers declined just as they became more important to your bottom line. No wonder MSNBC.com recently was forced to lay off 9 percent of its staff.
People who sell Web ads need a new game plan.
Stop selling ads as a way to build lists. Web ad buyers should have the same goal as those who buy media on TV, radio, or print: brand building.
Identify yourself with quality, and your name will resonate with consumers when they're considering your product category. That's why and how brands appear in ads in every medium.
This requires change and risk.
For advertisers, it means identifying online media that can demonstrate that they reach your target market. This could be a lifestyle or an industry -- whatever it is, demand proof from the publisher: audited numbers, market share, basically the same stuff you'd demand from any other media outlet.
For Web sites, this means not only performing an audit but also protecting your "environment" and rejecting advertisers who don't fit into your site's context or meet your readers' needs. You're the readers' advocate, their hero, their friend -- act like it.
Use the results of your audit to determine your brand targets. Get after them like Marines on a terrorist cell. Focus on sponsorships and creative brand building. Work with their agencies when you can.
The Web is all about relationships. Build some. Make it your New Year's Resolution for 2002.
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
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