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Roll Your Own Media

  |  September 30, 2005   |  Comments

If online is so measurable, where are the numbers that reflect top advertisers' real level of online spending?

New York's Adverting Week kicked off with a feel-good announcement from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Online advertising revenues for the first half of this year spiked up 26 percent over the first half of 2004, to a record $5.8 billion.

That's a very lowball number because it doesn't take interactive marketing spend into account. While dashing across town to what began to feel like most of the 200 Advertising Week conferences, symposia and events, I realized it's marketing -- not advertising -- that interactive is turning towards, both on the client and the agency sides. Increasingly, brand advertisers are complementing their ad campaigns and media buys (if not outright replacing them) with much more integrated, consumer-oriented (and often, consumer-generated) online marketing campaigns.

Where's this major share of interactive spend going? It appears the real money's flowing into online agencies, paid search -- and even into TV, much more so than into online publishers' coffers.

The Bigger the Campaign, the Smaller the Online Buy?

As media conglomerates such as Viacom, News Corp., Time Warner and CBS sink billions into site designs and acquisitions to compete with Yahoo, MSN and to a lesser extent, Google, major advertisers more often set their sights in other directions. They're buying offline media, often with the purpose of getting those audiences to go online.

On the Web, they're setting up blogs and building games, a la Audi's Art of the H3ist. Such carefully calibrated and calculated forms of home brew media are, in turn, spawning a plethora of fan sites and blogs. Online media campaigns are becoming truly and totally integrated with offline advertising; with TV spots, PR plans, talk show appearances and live events. Yet the online media buys for the most behemoth campaigns are virtually nil. Paid search is a must, but display advertising is utterly optional.

The roll-your-own-media trend got serious traction with campaigns such as BMW's The Hire film series (which spawned a line of print books, a theatrical release and DVDs). It's continued and grown with American Express efforts such as the Seinfeld/Superman spots, and even Burger King's Subservient Chicken.

McDonald's Lincoln Fry campaign is another example. There were Superbowl spots, sure (you can watch both of them online, of course). The online media "buy" consisted of a fake Web site, a fake blog, and a fake auction for what was actually a fake French fry. The buyer? Controversial (and media buy free) online advertiser GoldenPalace.com.

"This is a great day for marketing," said GoldenPalace CEO Richard Rowe of his $75,1000 French fry. (Fake to the end, the fry was actually marzipan, DDB Chicago's Paul Tilley told an audience at the OMMA conference.)

Perhaps it was a less auspicious day for online publishers. And yet another day that calls the numbers into question. If everything online really is so measurable, where are the numbers that reflect major advertisers' true level of online spending?

The Media or The Masses?

It wasn't easy to emerge from this wall-to-wall week of advertising talk without wondering who's gaining the edge: the media or the masses. Introducing MSN's paid search service, adCenter, at the MIXX conference, SVP Yusuf Mehdi said Microsoft plans to "bring advertising into all of our experiences, whether it's a Windows experience or an Office experience." He added platforms such as Microsoft TV, Xbox 360 and phones are also likely ad vehicles.

A few minutes later, Pepsi's CMO, Dave Burwick, was talking about one of his company's latest initiatives, an upcoming film on "iconic snowboarders" to be distributed by Universal. When it's released, I'm betting there will be a Web site and a marketing campaign. Online buys? We'll see.

Brand marketers are faced with a tough choice: advertise to the masses, or allow the masses to make the media -- and the message. Intel most recently opted for letting the masses come up with something. The Intel Indies Film Contest is only the latest in a long line of advertisers who are asking consumers to make media for them. Intel will spend on incidentals, such as banners on AtomFilms. Yet you can scarcely call the campaign a coup for the media buyers.

Does all this mean media buying is going away? Of course not. There are still plenty of "traditional" online campaigns. Not every advertiser has the resources, or the reasons, to do what these major consumer brands are doing. But the momentum for roll-your-own media is growing, not only at the top end of the scale, but also at the bottom. Very small marketers with budgets that match their size are also more inclined to build sites, blogs and buzz than to run display ads on a network of publisher sites.

Are you rolling your own media? Do you have plans to? I'd love to hear what you're doing in this very rapidly growing space -- drop me a line

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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