An Online-Advertising Postcard From Miami

Last week, in the balmy climes of Miami, FL, a group of industry veterans gathered at the IIR (Institute for International Research) Online Advertising Metrics conference to discuss the state of online advertising.

It wasn’t your usual backdrop for an industry conference. But the combination of warm winds and brilliant sunshine brought out the best in the speakers and attendees as they passionately discussed how to bring the industry out of its current slump.

One of the main points of discussion in the conference was whether the proper role of online advertising is to drive direct response or to build brand. While not everyone agreed to the terms of the negotiated settlement (that online advertising can do both), the consensus was that the current focus on click-through rate needs to be eliminated.

The highlight of the conference was the announcement of Revolution magazine’s 2001 awards. Stovin Hayter, the magazine’s debonair editor in chief, announced winners in categories such as Best Online Retailer, Best Use of Email for Marketing, Best Online PR, and Agency of the Year.

The common theme of the award winners can be summed up in two words: quantifiable results (although being cool was clearly also a factor). Hearing about the progress that the industry is making in delivering on objectives was very encouraging.

Among the winners, the following categories were my favorites.

Best Online Media Planning and Placement

Avenue A continues to lead the pack in online media planning and buying. For a drugstore.com campaign, Avenue A set cookies on the company’s biggest spenders, then detected what sites they showed up on. After weeks of analysis, Avenue A delivered millions of impressions on these “high-affinity” sites and then compared conversion rates to those of a set of control sites.

The company found the conversion rate on the affinity sites was 10 times higher than the control, and cost per purchase was 9 times lower. The process generated 1.45 million prospects. That’s impressive behavioral optimization.

Best Consumer Marketing Campaign

Pepsi and Yahoo, working with the agency Tribal DDB, figured out how to leverage the power of cross-media promotion and achieve great results. The campaign tied in an under-the-cap promotion with a system of online rewards that proved extremely compelling to Pepsi’s target audience. Leveraging two powerful brands, Pepsi and Yahoo, was the right combination for soft-drink consumers.

In the 120 days of the campaign, 3 million people registered. Despite a flat market and although no other national promotional activity was running, Pepsi saw a 5 percent increase in sales volume in the products being promoted.

Best Viral Campaign

The Internet is inherently viral, and most good online marketing leverages “word of mouse” in some way. Viral marketing had its moment in the sun last year, but thank goodness that for some marketers, it is more than just a buzzword.

PR firm Sterling Hager Inc., working with the agency e-tractions, made fun of itself and gathered some good press — and good leads — in the process. With the objective of increasing the number of media contacts in its database, the firm created a game whereby journalists could take out their frustrations at PR people and “Whack-a-Flack.”

The game, passed along to thousands from those who received the initial 150 seed emails, signed up 4,400 new media folks who could be annoyed with press releases. The campaign was also written up in The New York Times and 20 other publications.

Glowing

The startling omission from the awards were campaigns measured for their branding effectiveness. Unfortunately, even the Best Online Branding campaign (Kellogg’s Eet and Ern) was measured by direct-response metrics. Hopefully, next year’s awards will highlight campaigns that were able to meet quantifiable branding goals.

In a time when the industry has been unfairly getting a bad rap, it was good to hear about the numerous ways advertisers, agencies, and publishers have been achieving success online. At the end of the conference, everyone was glowing — although that might have had something to do with the sun.

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