Cross-Media Salvation

A few years back, many people working in online advertising (including myself) bridled at any suggestion that the Internet was just another media channel. We resisted, and resented, the people who said that the Internet was destined to be just one part of the media mix.

Why? Because we thought the Internet was so powerful and revolutionary that it changed all the rules of marketing (even though we didn’t know all the rules to begin with). The Internet was altering communication so quickly that we thought we should scrap the old ways of doing things and make up new rules as we went along.

This was the same misguided arrogance that forecast the wave of changes (the decline of print, the ubiquity of mobile commerce, the success of online grocery shopping) that has yet to wash over us. Now we are getting our comeuppance. But where does online advertising go from here?

For at least the last nine months, the industry consensus has been that the future growth of online advertising will come from established (non-dot-com) advertisers. Simply, they are the only companies with any money left.

To attract their dollars, the online advertising industry now wants nothing more than to be a part of the media mix it so resisted only a few years back. The goal is move from being an experimental medium to one that gets its share of media dollars, based on the money consumers spend there and the attention they give to it.

But designing solutions that mesh with the way that established advertisers understand, plan, and buy media is no simple task. Fortunately, some companies are making progress.

Last year, AOL Time Warner created a committee to design and sell cross-media packages to advertisers. The goal was to offer advertisers the ability to reach consumers across print, electronic, and online media with one integrated media strategy.

Last week, the company scored a big win. Toyota Camry, which is spending $160 million to launch next year’s model, signed on for a cross-media deal across AOL Time Warner’s print and online properties.

The deal is extensive. AOL Time Warner will have near-exclusive sponsorship of an entire issue of Time magazine devoted to global music. In addition, a number of magazines in the AOL Time Warner stable will create content around that theme for Camry’s advertising. A substantial online component will account for more than 10 percent of the buy.

This is great news for the online advertising industry as a whole. Not only is the Internet getting a substantial share of the mix, but the Net has been sold as part of a large, integrated package.

Reading about the Camry deal makes me wonder a number of things:

  • How will success be measured? Print and online media have their own established methodologies for measuring ad effectiveness. However, few attempts have been made to measure the success of integrated campaigns with an “apples-to-apples” approach. Quantifying the branding impact of ads in Time magazine and of banners on the auto section of AOL on the same spreadsheet will be a big challenge.
  • What’s each medium best at? Developing media strategies that utilize the strength of each medium is an important step in cross-media efficiency. Should Camry use print to build awareness and drive consideration and purchase online, or should it be the other way around? Only time, and experience, will tell.
  • Will editorial objectivity suffer? AOL Time Warner is creating content in a number of its print publications around the global music theme to support Camry advertising. Creating content around advertising is common online and will surely be part of the deal. But as publishers bend to the demands of a softening advertising market, publications must maintain the editorial integrity that readers expect and deserve. Cross-media deals, in other words, run the risk of being too creative.

As many major advertisers go into their planning season, educating them about the role of the Internet in the media mix will be very important. We certainly don’t have all the answers yet. But some humility, and the will to experiment and learn, will help us find the best role for online in the media mix.

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