Bizarro Web: Life Without a Click-Through Rate

Have any of you out there ever read comic books?

For years I was a huge comic-book collector. I guess most nerds are. From the time I was five years old until I was probably in my first year of college, I collected everything under the sun.

I started with “Batman,” then “Star Wars” came next. Over the years, I became mostly a Marvel fan: “X-Men,” “Daredevil,” “Punisher,” and the various spinoffs. I turned to DC, too, after a spell, given my early love of “Batman.” But, alas, by the time I got to college, comic books had become too expensive, and you had to start buying too many different titles to keep up with what was going on. Besides, there were a lot of other demands on my scant monetary resources!

During those years, however, I came across plenty of “alternative reality” scenarios — “What If?” in the Marvel Universe being prominent for many years, and “Bizarro” in DC.

Well, I propose a mental exercise like that right now. What if Webvertising came without mention of a click-through?

Close your eyes. Imagine a sky full of stars. Now imagine each of those stars going out, one by one, until you are surrounded by darkness…

It is 1995, and the Web has been a place of some experimentation for advertisers. Odd static pop-ups in walled-garden proprietary services like Prodigy, CompuServe, and AOL have already made an appearance, and some folks are out there buying text links.

Rick Boyce is in the small conference room of Wired’s old offices by South Park in San Francisco. He is demonstrating the way this thing — a banner, is it? — works on the HotWired site. The image, the thing, this… banner, is a rather plain box of text with AT&T copy in it. He’s showing us how you can click through and visit various museums all over the world.

Wow! This is amazing. You can move around this medium, going “virtually” anywhere.

And just think what it means to your brand to be able to generate awareness and have a two-way presence in an editorial environment that has affinity with your product or service?

(Can you feel the fabric of our dimension straining, as reality is about to alter?)

Yes, yes. What a powerful branding medium this could be, placing my advertisers’ images and messaging in an appropriate editorial context, but with the added benefit of being able to have the potential consumer communicate with the brand. And think of the research I can do. It’s like print, only there is a built-in capability for it to prove itself.

Oh, yes. What a great medium for exercising a little engagement branding, getting folks to involve themselves in my brand by having my brand affiliated with this two-way medium, we think.

Branding studies are done, and research is conducted to show the relative value of the Web as a medium compared with other media. Large media companies like GE and Cap Cities invest in research that they take to agencies, showing them that, indeed, the Web is a viable way to communicate a value proposition to an audience.

And, so, the advertising community starts including the Web as part of its media mix, along with TV, radio, and outdoor.

Some businesses are founded that do commerce on the Web. New publishers emerge, though not in droves any more out of the ordinary than with print. Some agencies develop core competencies that focus on the creating of, or the planning and placement of, this new media, not dissimilar to outdoor or local spot market boutiques.

The industry evolved quickly, much faster than the cable industry did, but not quite like quicksilver. Publishers are afforded the opportunity to steadily achieve profitability; those that don’t eventually fold, as is common in the print world. But all in all, the interactive media space finds itself in the company of other media, being considered, where appropriate, for major advertisers’ traditional marketing efforts.

The banner, instead of being dynamically rotated at whiplash speeds as an image rectangle at the top of a Web page, is given placements reminiscent of editorial counterparts in the print world. Again, it isn’t quite the same because the medium is more fluid and flexible, and it is two-way. But that’s fine. This will give me a chance to “talk” to the reader. Maybe the reader can even respond to my ad, which could be a coupon or something, giving me the added advantage of something resembling direct response.

Eureka! Maybe people can click through to request information about my particular product or service?! Or, better yet, they can even purchase it right there on the spot?!

So the click-through rate becomes incidental to the advertising project rather than the primary objective. The advertising satisfies the role it has always had but also takes on the added function of opportunistic ancillary sales channel.

After all, people will still go to stores and buy things that are advertised to them, won’t they?

But maybe things could have been different than even this? Stay tuned…

I want to thank Steve Patrizi, regional manager of Western Advertising Sales, for writing to me suggesting an “alternative universe” view of the online advertising space. What if there were no click-through?

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