Back to the Future: What 2001 Means for 2002

Although 2001 was dreary with layoffs, closings, and the chronic pain of some unresolved issues, it was still, in some respects, a good year. Compared to previous years, when so many efforts were flashy and high-profile and in the end signified nothing, 2001 saw the online advertising industry make some genuine, lasting progress.

The achievements of last year will pave the way for the progress we need in 2002. Here are some of the milestones of 2001 and what they will mean for this year.

New ad size units. Last February, the Interactive Advertising Bureau released voluntary guidelines for new, larger ad size units. In subsequent studies, the new units were proven to be more effective vehicles for branding. Because of this, major Web sites have launched redesigned pages that accommodate the new unit sizes.

Sites such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and MSN use these units with considerable distinction. Compare them with the 1998 and 1999 versions of the sites; they seem millennia apart.

Rich media. Every year, my friend Bill McCloskey says this will be the breakthrough year for rich media. In 2001, with high-profile sites such as CBS MarketWatch.com and Yahoo using engrossing technologies to create memorable ads, I think he finally got it right.

Some studies that showed larger ad sizes work better than banners for branding also showed that rich media is more effective than static units. With advertisers increasingly focused on branding and Web sites more willing to accommodate them, rich media was a big story in 2001 and will be more important this year.

The X10. On the flipside, 2001 was the year one tiny company was able to damage the reputation of the entire industry. No regular surfer on the Net was able to avoid a virtual carpet-bombing of pop-ups and pop-unders promoting the company’s product. For many users, online advertising is now synonymous with the offensive, ubiquitous X10 units. The fact that many top sites accepted the ads is a sign of the sorry state of the 2001 ad market.

Cross-media advertising. When AOL announced its planned merger with Time Warner in 2000, it signaled the end of Internet exclusivity and the beginning of an era in which advertisers would strategically plan advertising across media, on- and offline. In 2001, cross-media planning started to gather momentum.

Advertisers know their customers spend much of their time on the Internet. They want to be able to budget and evaluate their Net investment alongside their other media buys. Publishers, particularly those with on- and offline properties, want to sell cross-channel deals. And everyone wants to see how the Internet works synergistically with offline media. Expect cross-media measurement to be a big topic in 2002.

Many advertisers feel the Web is too unaccountable, too unproven, and too complicated to warrant substantial investment. Of course, much work is still to be done. If we continue to work together to face the issues, I am certain 2002 will be a better year than 2001.

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