Dot Com Fever

It’s fourth quarter – a critical quarter for most dot com companies. Those that wish to snag a respectable slice of the fourth quarter e-commerce revenues are advertising wherever they can get space. And it’s simply overwhelming, both to consumers and to any new companies that might have to compete in this cluttered environment.

Here in the New York market, it’s nearly impossible to get to work these days without seeing an ad for a dot com company. Every bus, phone booth, billboard, subway train and sidewalk vendor cart is covered in ads for e-commerce web sites, high speed Internet access, ISPs and content sites. If the average New Yorker is assaulted by 10 dot com brands by the time he gets to work, how can any of these companies expect to build mindshare?

The rush of dot com advertising into the top 25 Internet markets is by no means limited to outdoor advertising. Cable, radio, newspapers and magazines are also saturated with the stuff in fourth quarter. The result is a highly competitive environment with diminished returns for all advertisers.

What can one do about this wall of clutter?

The first thing you need to do is accept the fact that this clutter will be there. Media folks can do only so much – they certainly can’t change the marketing and media plans of other companies and other products. The way to compete for attention is to increase the impact of your advertising message, and there are several ways to do that.

Increase creative impact – This is becoming less and less effective as many dot com advertisers strive for shock value in their ads. However, creative is one of the top factors in determining whether a product’s message can break through clutter. Sex appeal works (e.g., CyberGold’s “getting paid for doing it” ads), as does pure shock value (e.g., Outpost’s “hamster cannon” commercials).

Try a new medium – When I say “new medium,” I mean a channel of communication that few advertisers are using to spread their message. I’ve always thought that skywriting over sporting events would be very impactful for some advertisers. Postcard racks, stickers in the back of taxicabs, ads on coffee cups and other such creative messaging are all good examples of creativity in the face of clutter.

A classic example of this sort of thinking is when RealNames sponsored the stairs at Internet World, one of the most cluttered environments on the face of the planet. Show attendees that approached the stairs at I-World would see a RealNames ad painted on the stairs themselves, which was impactful enough to make that RealNames ad the talk of the show in the first year it appeared.

Buy different creative units – The half-page spread is very effective in print. Live reads by DJs in radio can be more effective than a 30-second spot. Infomercials allow for a more detailed message than brief spots on TV.

Don’t forget the most powerful force on the Internet – Word of mouth is still king. While watching the Yankees beat up on the Red Sox the other day in a favorite bar, I heard a young lady next to me launch into a story about her positive experience with Kozmo.com in front of a group of six friends. You can bet the farm that each of these six friends will at least check Kozmo out the next time they’re online. It may not be the quickest way to build an online business, but grass roots efforts can certainly be effective.

As more and more dot com advertisers launch integrated campaigns, it’s becoming more important to check out how much dot com clutter there will be in the various media on your plans. It’s getting harder and harder to do something memorable with all that noise out there. And until dot com fever dies down a bit, all of us are going to have to be a lot more creative in how we reach the consumer.

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