Digital Ad Daze

Navigating the jam-packed exhibition rooms at ad:tech New York this week, a first-time visitor can’t help but walk out in a daze after witnessing hoopla reminiscent of Web 1.0, circa 1999.

For example, in a homage to Facebook and MySpace comes this goofy concept: a site bills itself as the “new face” of social networking, pun intended. Get this: says its facial recognition technology will find a member’s twin by comparing facial characteristics of other members. Advertisers are promised the ability to reach members by age, location, and hobby.

After day one, I left the Hilton New York baffled. Why do some advertising technology vendors still insist on paying women to dress as cheerleaders or wear tight black dresses that reveal lots of skin at an event devoted to digital advertising and technology? OK, sex sells.

Booze works, too. Social network Friendster served up chips and beer, befriending scores of conference attendees.

And how about the New Age approach from Microsoft’s Digital Advertising Solutions? The vendor invigorated and soothed visitors with low doses of orange-, lavender-, and eucalyptus-scented oxygen.

Therein lies the challenge for advertisers and brands. If companies providing services and products to the digital community rely on offline marketing tactics such as these, what does this mean for traditional companies looking to advertise and market online?

In contrast to the hype and hoopla on the exhibit hall floor, some ad:tech conference speakers offered a more sober outlook for online advertising and the hurdles it still needs to clear.

Though television’s popularity is declining, it’s dangerous to assume that advertisers who abandon television will divert the money to online or other venues, said Matthew Rosenberg, group director at Organic.

He called on advertisers and agencies to dedicate money to experiment with new media. “If you don’t support the growth of the next [new] thing, the next thing won’t be born. TV will continue to decline and there will be nothing to absorb it,” he said at one session.

Can you name your favorite two television ads? asked another speaker, Brad Jakeman, a former advertising executive at Macy’s and Citigroup. Probably. Do you recall your two favorite ad banners or mobile messages? Not likely.

“You have a whole industry throwing crap at multiple media. Nobody’s actually focused on the value of an idea. Everyone is obsessed with being out in the forefront of the digital revolution. Blah, blah, blah,” he sighed.

At the “State of the Industry” roundtable, Randall Rothenberg, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB‘s) chief executive, proclaimed online advertising is strong, vibrant, and growing. Yet it’s still at risk.

“There are people who want to regulate you out of business,” he warned, citing a proposal kicking around that would require opt-in for all online advertising.

In response, Rothenberg said the IAB is waging a campaign to bring attention to the value of an ad-supported Internet. “Three companies alone are responsible for 500 million free e-mail addresses,” he said, citing an example of how advertisers foot the bill for a service benefiting consumers.

Fox Interactive Media members recognize advertising’s value, said Michael Barrett, chief revenue officer for the company that includes MySpace. The biggest complaint: ads must be more relevant. Why, for instance, should someone who’s married receive an ad designed for singles?

While social networks captured this year’s conference buzz, what about last year’s darling, online video? “It’s living up in a monster way,” declared Suzie Reider, YouTube‘s head of advertising sales.

Despite her optimism, Reider acknowledged the medium still faces challenges. “It took the IAB and all of us 10 years to find a standard on how to count impressions on the Web. We cannot afford to wait that long [with video advertising]. We have to have some standardization around the ad format,” she said.

Don’t forgot mobile, either. Google’s alliance with phone carriers, handset makers, and others to develop an open platform for wireless broadband holds much promise.

“We cannot wait for mobile to take off,” said Beth Comstock, president of NBC Universal‘s integrated media. “You have to look at what’s happening in Asia…It will happen here.”

Judging by the thousands attending ad:tech, these obstacles clearly haven’t dampened the newest generation’s dreams and ambitions for interactive.

BTW, what about that woman on the fourth floor in the banana-yellow jumpsuit, trying to attract attention to the company that promised, “No more landing pages”? Not sure I understand what they do, but you couldn’t avoid her or her company.

Join us for SES Chicago on December 3-6 and training classes on December 7.

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