An ‘Un-Technified’ Object Lesson

For Internet industry professionals who have enough restraint to leave their laptops at home (but can’t quite seem to leave their work behind, too), part of the annual holiday experience is exploring different computers while visiting family and friends. Personality-revealing desktop wallpaper and screensavers aside, the process can be daunting. When you spend as much time in front of your personal computer as we do, an unfamiliar machine is bound to slow you down. It can also be a learning experience for media buyers.

Working in a technology-oriented industry, we’re lucky to have access to superior tools and equipment. The fastest computers, the fastest Internet connections — speed matters, especially for an ad exec who spends three-quarters of her day conducting online research. Somewhere between viewing e-commercials without incident and enjoying seamless advertiser-sponsored videos online, we forget few consumer users are so technologically blessed.

According to a Nielsen/NetRatings report released early last year, although numbers are indeed growing, only about 20 percent of the total U.S. online population currently enjoys high-speed Web access. Even my meager math skills can discern that leaves 80 percent of users on dial-up.

How does this affect online advertising? A slow connection means slower page downloads. That includes the flashy and progressive skyscraper ads your marketing team worked so hard to produce. Were those slo-mo users taken into account when ads were developed? When designers and account managers are accustomed to viewing and testing creative on a high-speed connection, this majority demographic is easily overlooked.

The nature of your target audience’s connection isn’t the only factor many marketers fail to take into consideration when planning online marketing programs. I recently heard a story that brought this fact to light in a most disturbing way. An agency had developed a flashy new site for a blue chip packaged-goods company. Following recent trends, it included as many interactive elements in the site design as possible, from drop-down menus promoting easy navigation to user-friendly, product-oriented tools providing added value content — all employing Java technology.

When the site was ready to launch, it looked nothing short of fantastic. The client was asked to give the creative a final once-over. Instead of receiving the praise expected, the agency got an angry call. The client just happened to view the site using an early version of a browser the agency hadn’t considered during design. Like thousands of consumers who still use the browser, the client couldn’t view many of the site’s special features. The agency failed to test and ensure the site was compatible with all popular browsers. The mistake nearly cost it the account.

To avoid potentially irreparable damage, remember this year you are one of the technologically well endowed. Factors such as broadband versus narrowband connections and browser capabilities are absolutely essential when developing creative. Look at sites on which you intend to advertise to guide you and set limitations. Request audience profiles before determining which ad formats and technology you’ll employ. If a site’s audience comprises tech-savvy users, you may have extra leeway. You can assume the majority of this dedicated audience will surf using a high-speed hook-up.

Be sure to test each and every ad prior to launching a campaign. Try multiple browsers (and older releases of the software) and various connection speeds to ensure your ads will maintain their integrity, whether delivered to a fully equipped Internet professional or viewed by your mother-in-law.

The key to good online advertising and effective media buys is viewing each campaign from the consumer’s perspective. The importance of this technique is never more apparent than when a media buyer is surfing the Net on someone else’s computer, with a slow connection and an unfamiliar browser.

Only by peering into the monitor of your most technologically non-evolved consumer will these issues become clear. Amazing what you can learn by getting “un-technified.”

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