In most media, direct marketers and brand advertisers are clearly separated.
In print, direct marketers enter the mailbox on their own or buy small ads in the back of magazines. On TV, the direct marketers buy "remnant time" on cable channels or in late-night time slots.
On the Web, no such separation exists. When the Web ad market collapsed early this year, direct marketers filled the void.
First they forced rates down to the floor, then they started innovating.
The first result was the "pop-under" revolution of companies such as NextCard and X10. These ads forced users to play "whack-a-mole" even on sites such as MSNBC and CBS SportsLine.com.
Brand-oriented advertisers such as Orbitz now buy pop-unders as well, measuring them with the same metrics as the direct marketers. Get the lowest possible rate, measure the click-throughs and sales -- it was Web Marketing 101.
But then the direct marketers went too far. Gator.com's Companion Pop-Up Banner places another ad on top of your site's banner space. TopText, which ships with the KaZaA file-sharing system, can make any word on any page a link -- this page right now might be filled with links to porn sites.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau called the Companion Pop-Up Banner an "unfair business practice" last week, but it's really just direct marketing at work.
The fact is that direct marketers don't care what they do to the editorial environments they advertise in. Sites that survive need brand advertising, measured by metrics such as impressions, unique viewers (calculated using cookies), and the value of the advertising environment (priceless).
But brand advertisers demand user attention and creativity, too. One of the most creative site managers serving brand advertisers today may be Scot McLernon, executive vice president for sales and marketing at CBS MarketWatch.
For two years, MarketWatch has offered advertisers the chance to make their logos the wallpaper behind its quote and chart pages. Sun was the first advertiser to use the format, but now companies such as Toyota, Motorola, and even Budweiser are in the rotation.
"I first saw the idea with the '101 Dalmatians' movie -- they did spots on their editorial pages," McLernon said. "I thought taking the Sun logo and putting that on all our charting pages and quote pages would not be intrusive but would have a subliminal effect. Sun was perfect for that because they're buying branding, not clicks."
McLernon said that while direct marketers demand the full interruption of users, brand managers will be happy with "mildly intrusive" spots that can be integrated into their broadcast and print campaigns.
Most of these advertisers won't even need a Web site, he said. "Does Right Guard really need a Web site?" No, it wants its print and broadcast campaigns translated to the Web as is, so it can integrate the Web into a brand strategy.
The future, he added, can be found at the main page of Playboy.com, an advertising splash screen McLernon called an "avatar." The screen advertises both the site and Jack Daniel's whiskey. He said MarketWatch plans to launch such a campaign soon.
"I'm a big fan of mildly intrusive Web advertising." he concluded. "The passive advertising of a banner that's scrolled away is over. It's officially over as of today. Mildly intrusive advertising that can be measured is better than a banner. My avatar will be seen."
If it works, it will be seen all over.
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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.
March 19, 2014