At Last, Interactive Media Speaks Up

Better late than never, as the saying goes. This certainly holds true in regard to the Interactive Advertising Bureau‘s (IAB’s) new campaign designed to boost the “brand equity” of interactive media, plans for which were unveiled this week.

It’s a smart idea. After all, marketing does work, and (as you probably know if you’re reading this column) interactive marketing works, too.

In popular perception, interactive marketing was, unfortunately, lumped in with every other failed Internet business scheme. Whether applied to pet food retailers or one-hour delivery services, the words “Internet” and “dot-com” became synonymous with “fly-by-night” — at least among folks who weren’t intimately involved with the medium. (Witness how many companies, including ClickZ’s parent, dropped the dot-com designation from their names, eager to cast off the taint investors associated with the suffix.)

The failures and difficulties of Internet companies dependant on advertising gave rise to the notion that if they weren’t doing well, it must be because online advertising doesn’t work. If you were looking at click-through as a metric (and so many were back then), it’s no wonder people in mainstream media and the business world began to reach that conclusion.

The dot-com downturn hurt in other ways, too. It gave rise to annoying, uncreative advertising formats — such as pop-ups and pop-unders — which flourished in a single-digit CPM environment. Most of the creative was more reminiscent of infomercials than of anything truly interactive, and cheesy-looking creative only served to further diminish the reputation of Internet media.

It didn’t help that advertising-supported Internet players, including technology vendors, had fallen into order-taking mode. Venture capital money was flowing so fast and furiously there was no need to actually sell anything. There was no need to innovate, either. Everyone trashed banner ads, but they were selling like hotcakes. Why bother developing anything new? But when the bubble burst, anything associated with advertising was branded a waste of money (remember the dot-com Super Bowl?).

Since then, the Internet use has soared. The Web has been becoming an evermore important part of Americans’ daily lives. Still, that odor lingers around interactive media — how could it possibly drop that “Internet” association? The IAB did its best, changing what the “I” in its name stood for. Finally, it’s dispelling that dark, malodorous cloud, blowing it away with the strong winds of truth.

The new ad campaign will focus on getting facts — case studies, numbers, creatives — in front of decision makers. It wouldn’t hurt to get that message in front of the public, as well, since the general perception of Internet media as cheesy, annoying, and ineffective contributes to a lack of enthusiasm among traditional marketers, many of whom have to justify their spending to more conservative superiors.

Back in December of 2000, I wrote in ChannelSeven about a “disturbing lack of evangelism” and wondered why the IAB didn’t do something. It’s taken a year and a half, but it’s coming together at last. The time hasn’t been wasted, either.

In that article (which garnered an incredible amount of feedback) I called for research to be conducted. That’s been done. The IAB put together a stunning media mix study that points to the incredible potential of interactive media. It’s following up with even more ambitious research and has recently hired a VP of marketing, Kelly Colbert, to promote the industry. DoubleClick used its great reach and vast databases to gather evidence of the medium’s effectiveness. Dynamic Logic’s work on the branding effects of interactive media, especially rich media, has been invaluable. A great number of publishers, agencies, and marketers, many of which will be highlighted in the IAB advertising campaign, have seen solid results from their work on the Internet. Now, it’s time to tell the world.

Thanks to the pro-bono cooperation of publishers, technology providers, marketers, research firms, and agencies, word will get out. It’s perfect timing, too. While financial markets are embroiled in scandal, like the Enron and WorldCom messes, the outlook for advertising is improving. Television upfront spending is up; forecasts for interactive media are generally positive. It’s time to make a case for the cost-effective qualities of online media and to get a piece of what appear to be expanding marketing budgets.

The IAB and other industry players are taking a stand at last. They deserve your support.

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