Ad Network CEO: Celeb Deaths of 2009 Benefited Some Marketers

The sudden death of actress Brittany Murphy this week tied a morbid bow on a big 2009 trend — that of celebrities dying and falling from grace. According to Blogads CEO Henry Copeland, the unfortunate events provided advertisers on his network, at times, with a considerable amount of additional exposure at no cost.

Copeland said traffic was up by 40 percent on PerezHilton.com the day after Michael Jackson died compared to its average numbers, creating what he characterized as a big win for advertisers. “The biggest impact and value for advertisers is simply the increased brand footprint they [got],” he said. “An advertiser may have paid for 10 million impressions, but if the site sees a 30 percent uptick due to a celebrity event, they get 3 million impressions for free.”

Copeland’s firm runs ads on 3,500 blogs, most notably celebrity gossip or politics sites like PerezHilton.com, Dailykos, Wonkette, MichelleMalkin, Dlisted, and CuteOverload. While traffic in the blogosphere may have spiked a bit when the deaths of Murphy, Patrick Swayze, Ted Kennedy, and Walter Cronkite became public, nothing compared in 2009, news coverage-wise, to Jackson’s death and Tiger Woods’ car accident/extramarital affairs.

Though Copeland explained that his company could get campaigns “up and running in a matter of hours,” he said that Blogads didn’t receive any calls from marketers during the celebrity events. “Most major brand campaigns are planned weeks or months…ahead of time. So we haven’t had any ‘drive-by’ advertisers hop on a hot story.”

He continued, “We don’t anticipate this kind of demand going forward because of the way the ad agencies and their clients are structured… There’s just [too many] decision-makers and [too much] budgeting, time-lag, and iterative looping built into the process. A really agile and smart advertiser should jump into these stories; but the structure of the ad industry makes it almost impossible.”

ComScore doesn’t offer day-specific reports to support Copeland’s claim about the day after the Jackson’s death, but did show that PerezHilton.com’s traffic was noticeably higher during June and July — when the star’s death/autopsy/funeral storyline developed — than any of the previous 12 months. Year-over-year, according to the Reston, VA-based research firm, the gossip site’s traffic was up 3 percent for the two months.

Those numbers are intriguing considering that competitor TMZ.com broke the news of Jackson’s death. ComScore said TMZ’s traffic was 2 percent higher in June when compared to 2008, while seeing a 3 percent lift for July. Meanwhile, TMZ.com declined requests for internal data for June 25, when Jackson died, or the day after.

Interestingly, Copeland said that the recent Tiger Woods trail of scandals — which began on Nov. 27 — hasn’t produced nearly as many unique visitors or impressions when compared to the pop star’s passing. “Michael Jackson’s death has by far been the biggest news event this year for us,” he said. “Tiger’s impact on Perez Hilton’s traffic was negligible. Our impression is that men were a lot more interested in this story and 88 percent of Perez’s readers are women.”

TMZ.com and its advertisers appear to have fared much better during the Woods scandals. According to comScore, traffic to the site for the week ending Dec. 6 — the first full week after the scandals broke — was 53 percent higher than it was the prior two weeks’ average. The research firm shows that TMZ.com saw a 5 percent spike in traffic during November, compared to the same month for 2008.

The Los Angeles-based gossip blog may be trying to capitalize on the opportunity posed by celebrity sports scandals. Warner Brothers, which owns the site, reportedly registered the domain name TMZSports.com. While TMZ.com has a sports section, the site would not comment on speculation it is planning for a site dedicated to sports star gossip.

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