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No Crystal Ball, Just Survivor-Speak

  |  October 29, 2002   |  Comments

Neither exuberant nor irrational. Those who weathered the online ad slump talk tactics for the present and the future.

I just came back from speaking at our Jupiter/IAB AdForum last week. I was certainly not surprised to find some pundits out there dissing the positive outcome analysts reported. Though online ad spending has been pretty much flat over the past year, it's predicted it will increase upwards of 10 percent over the next.

Personal bias aside, I thought the bulk of the panelists and analysts were realists. I spoke on the last day, ironically after a panel discussing how not to use advertising to garner Web site and/or brand effectiveness. Gulp. Rudy Grahn, a Jupiter Research senior analyst asked us to discussed what's working and what's not in the digital media space today. (Jupiter Research is owned by ClickZ's parent company, Jupitermedia.)

Interestingly, what unfolded was somewhat of a debate toward the definition of advertising as it lives and breathes online today. We all seemed to use the word "marketing" to refer to any form of online advertising campaign, success or failure. In addition, we all used the phrase "smart marketing." To give you a peek inside the tent, I'll share with you my take on the panel at hand (knowing of course, this could cause great debate).

Digital Media Haves

Search engine optimization (SEO). Eighty-two percent of online shoppers know exactly what they want. They seek the destination where they'll find it. As a result, about half use search engines and/or directories to get them there. No big surprise here. This often includes forms of paid placement on vehicles such as Google, Ask Jeeves, Overture, and the like.

Email. Yes, email in any form, be it HTML, sponsored email delivery, opt-in email, or newsletter sponsorships still works. It's the most commonly used Web application, hands down. A word of warning: It's as cluttered as hell. According to Jupiter, advertisers will send about 268 billion email messages per year. Users will receive over 1,600 commercial emails per year. This provides an even bigger challenge in regard to open rates.

Sponsorships. We agency folk throw this word around constantly. Ask 20 different people what a sponsorship is, and you'll likely receive 20 different (and long-winded) answers. To me, a sponsorship is a program or campaign designed uniquely for an advertiser. Not your standard, run-of-the-mill, off-the-shelf rate card stuff here, folks. It typically involves buyers and sellers putting their heads together in search of a campaign consisting of multiple ad units within several areas of a site. It could incorporate additional elements such as data captures, surveys, email a friend, search, and so on. My example was a roadblock. This is when an advertiser owns all the impressions within all ad units on a given page (or series of pages) for an agreed-upon amount of time. For example, a new movie is launching. The advertiser buys the entire home page and movie listings for a day.

Digital Media Have-Nots

Old ways of measuring campaign effectiveness. In the "old" days, we (dumbly) sold ourselves on metrics such as the dreaded CTR, CPC, post-click conversions, and metrics driven purely by the server. Quite often, we hung our hats on one metric versus a combination of several. I'd like to think we're all grownups now. We struggle to obtain post-impression data, brand awareness, purchase intent, and ad recall to analyze the entire buy. Most important, we know there is no panacea.

Pop-ups. I'm not going to beat a dead horse. Besides, I wrote an entire article about this before. It seems everyone is ditching pop-ups these days: iVillage, AOL Time Warner, EarthLink, and NetZero, to name a few. We all know advertisers who have blatantly abused this creative format. We bash annoying X-10 ads. I agree, it's not the creative unit that's the debate. I believe the format is here to stay. However, it needs to be regulated. A fellow panelist opined, "Intrusive advertising is here to stay." I disagree. As advertisers and publishers, we are responsible for protecting the user's experience. Why waste costly impressions on serving up inventory to uninterested or unqualified users? If your target is 50-year-old males who golf, why would you dare serve pop-ups of the Ab-Doer on the leader board section of a top sports site? Frequency caps are critical to avoid annoying users and to obtain proper response rates. Please -- let me rest my case.

Although no online advertising event today could possibly bring in the ridiculous amount of foot traffic of a couple years ago, we had an event and the seats were full. We threw away our crystal balls back then. Now, it's the strong who survive. We're not going away anytime soon.

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Seana Mulcahy

Seana Mulcahy is vice president, director of interactive media at Mullen (an IPG company). She's been creating online brands since before the first banner was sold. Her expertise includes online and traditional media planning and buying, e-mail marketing, viral marketing, click-stream analysis, customer tracking, promotions, search engine optimization and launching brands online. Prior to Mullen, Seana was vice president of media services at Carat Interactive. She's built online media services divisions for three companies and has worked with clients spanning financial, telecom, high-tech, healthcare and retail. Not surprisingly, she has taught, lectured and written about the industry for numerous trade associations and publications.

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