Baby Grows Up: The Web as a Medium

We’ve been waiting for it to happen for a couple of years now though, admittedly, we have done little within the industry to make it happen. But lo and behold, the web is finally growing up and being considered a legitimate medium.

The web needs to be considered legitimate in its own right if it is ever to share in the vast pool of money being spent every year on advertising. Now, the web isn’t yet sitting at the “big people’s table” during Thanksgiving dinner, but it is finally being taken seriously by the ad industry at large and by the larger advertisers. Their use of the web as a serious part of the overall media mix will lend the web the weight and credence of other media.

But there is still a lot that has to be done before the web can take a seat at the big table, get its own knife, and scoop cranberry sauce for itself.

In order to join the party, the web will have to be able to compete with other media, which will require using the same metrics other mediums use — metrics that are de rigueur currency in the offline space: targeted rating points (TRPs), schedules, industry-compatible CPMs, and, most important, reach and frequency.

One of the problems with the web is that it has its own distinct language. If we are going to put the web on equal footing with other media, we have to be able to talk about it in terms that the whole industry will understand. And, as mentioned, the metrics we use in the offline space to discuss communications goals and the impact of a campaign have to be brought to the web. Without things like real reach and frequency for the web, it will remain a ghettoized medium, yet another hurdle the web has to overcome.

Though things are starting to change a bit in the marketplace, interactive advertising — both from the buyers’ and sellers’ perspectives — remains the purview of specialists. Interactive units in both vendor and agency organizations have been more like balkanized fiefdoms than integrated parts of the companies in which they operate. Like cable was in its early days, advertising on the web moved out of the mainstream planning groups and into the hands of specialists. This has to stop.

Multimedia sales organizations and media buying and planning agencies have to make their people knowledgeable about the web and comfortable working within it. It is invariably going to grow as a legitimate medium. Training existing personnel in the “ways of the web” and making it part of the regular learning process for new hires is the only way to overcome the “separate and not equal” status of the web as a medium.

Finally, it’s important to look at the web in context with other media in order to see where it belongs in the media mix. What are its strengths and weaknesses? How is it used by the target audience in comparison with other media? And, finally, what is the web’s effect on the target audience when used alone and as a part of a whole comprehensive communications package?

If we as an industry can address these issues and answer some of these questions, I think you will see more and more major advertisers regularly using the web as part of their advertising campaigns.

And then the web will enjoy the bountiful repast laid before the rest of the media sitting at the table and will be allowed to cut its own food. Perhaps the web will even get the wishbone some day.

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