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Mountains Out Of Molehills

  |  September 23, 2003   |  Comments

Things were looking up for interactive. Then the WSJ demonstrates its poor grasp of the medium.

There seems to be no shortage of positive market indicators lately. Most, if not all, prognosticators in the ad business are calling for increased spending across the board. Those increases are magnified when it comes to the Internet. On September 4, Morningstar issued a release stating the market was being driven by, among others, Yahoo. Yahoo? Driving the market? During a traditionally slow month like September? And how about juggernaut media agencies like Universal McCann announcing the creation of new positions with titles like "Chief Accountability Officer"? What do you think that means for the Internet and its future? Finally, I have planners talking daily about sites, asking if we can push inventory from Q4 to Q1 of next year based on a lack of avails.

It definitely feels we're somewhere in the vicinity of a tipping point for the industry. Then along comes the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 15 with "Major Marketers Find Ads On Site That Pitches Porn." (paid subscription required for link)

Excuse me? What's this? A controversial title like that certainly got my attention. I had to investigate this exposé by James R. Hagerty and Julia Angwin of the Journal.

What did I find? Simply stated, one of the single largest non-issues I've encountered in this business. Put another way, some really poor journalism.

The reality of the situation is that agencies (mine included) placed buys with ad networks that included a site called ABCSearch.com. ABCSearch.com's policy apparently is not to filter out adult sites in its search results.

Does ABCSearch.com have adult content? No. But the site links to it. How does that match up with the rest of the industry? Let's take a look, shall we?

Google: Search for a s^x or p0rn-related word and you receive s^x and p0rn-related sites in the search results.

Yahoo: Ditto.

MSN: Hmmm, MSN takes a different approach. If you want adult content, they direct you to an adult-only search engine. Good for the folks in Redmond.

Alta Vista: All the s^x you can search for.

Lycos: Lycos takes its cue from MSN and redirects to the same adult content search engine.

Basically, what we have here is a case of search engines doing what they're supposed to do. Companies such as those mentioned in the WSJ debacle advertise in these engines. In a big way, I might add. I'm not going to get into the names of brands you might see adorning the Yahoo home page or those found on Lycos. I really shouldn't mention Amazon has one of its trademark ads on Google that touts books specific to whatever keyword was searched. But I must say I did find it interesting Amazon appears to be selling novels about Fr^e P0rn.

I'll fully admit ABCSearch.com's decision to place a link to specific parts of the anatomy (women's posteriors, to be exact) within the Women's Health subsection shows a complete absence of good judgment. But is anyone surprised to find links to sites that contain p0rn0graphy on the other side of that link? When I called my client Monday morning to make her aware of the article, she hadn't read it. To paraphrase her response, "If I went to a site and clicked on 'Women's Butts' and didn't find p0rn0graphy, I'd think the site was bad."

As I write, I am a bit disappointed in myself. The fact this got any mass media space in the first place is ridiculous. The fact I'm giving it more is a bit hypocritical. But I had to call the Journal on the carpet on this one. More specifically, the co-writers James Hagerty and Julia Angwin. What possibly could they hope to accomplish with such a piece? One can only guess. Perhaps they were simply hard up (ahem) for material. As a columnist, I can empathize. I, too, sometimes have trouble coming up with worthy material. At least I wouldn't resort to making something out of nothing. Or would I?

House Update – Revisited
It's been a while, but finally there's some news. We've decided to forgo the sale of our home and stay settled. The house is officially off the market. Plans are being crafted for finishing the basement. I'll retain my crazy commute, but continue to enjoy the peace and solitude of my remote locale. Thanks to everyone for all of the recommendations to help facilitate the sale, particularly burying a statue of St. Joseph next to the foundation. Remarkable how many of you said it worked in the past. I'll try that in a year or so, when we go for round two.

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Mark Redetzke Mark Redetzke is vice president of online media for Zentropy Partners, a unit of MRM (McCann Relationship Marketing). He's led Zentropy's Minneapolis online media department since 1999, where he develops integrated online contact strategies and oversees all planning and buying. Current clients include Nestle Purina, General Mills, H&R Block, Microsoft, Overture and Sprint. Earlier, Mark planned traditional and online media for Campbell-Mithun. He's a frequent guest lecturer at conferences and graduate advertising and communications courses at St. Thomas University; the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis School of Communication Arts & Design and the 4A's.

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