Dot Coms Crowd Out Beer Man

A few months ago, the folks at Advertising Age asked me to report on TV advertising plans, and I insisted we add a sidebar about the “dot coms.”

Most of the ad sales people I talked to for that story were skeptical that Internet companies would impact their plans, but all now admit they were wrong. The sellers are lighting victory cigars while the buyers have their hands in their heads.

If you’re selling cars, cola, cereal or beer, it’s getting hard to be heard above the dot com din. TV ad rates are going through the roof because dot coms are flush with cash and will buy at any price. Coors’ Beer Man has been pushed off the schedule by the Monster.com kids who “want to be forced into early retirement.” (Yeah, and I want to work long enough to push you there.) Dot com investment money is lighting a bigger advertising bonfire than the one the Texas Aggies tried to build, and tragically, it’s no more stable.

When I talk to representatives of these companies, I get the same kind of knee-jerk responses I get in talking biology with some fundamentalists. They believe they have to brand now because everyone else is. They’ve forgotten everything we’ve learned about branding over the last hundred years.

So let’s review, shall we?

A brand isn’t the memory in someone’s head that comes back in a focus group. A brand is the reinforcement of what you’re able to do and a promise you’re able to keep. Most important, a brand is aimed at your market and your buyer – a message that isn’t targeted is wasted air.

What is the promise of the Buy.com (formerly Nike) golf tour? I could understand the Chipshot.com tour, even the dsports.com tour, but what does Buy.com have to do with it? What’s the promise of the Insight.com Bowl – couldn’t that money have been better spent on improving the site’s customer service and check out process?

Brands are based on what you can do. A Coca-Cola tastes good and won’t hurt you. A pair of Levi’s jeans will last for decades. No one gets fired for buying IBM. Performance must be there for a brand to mean anything. An ad without performance is a waste of money.

Instead, dot coms are buying now and thinking they’ll perform later. Ourbeginning.com, which sells wedding invitations (that must be an immense market) is buying five Super Bowl spots, four of them in the pre-game, reports the New York Post. Oxygen.com, backed by Oprah Winfrey and former Nickelodeon head Geraldine Laybourne, is buying a Super Bowl ad – shouldn’t they be renamed Helium.com?

Once you have a brand (or even a branding message) you put it before your audience and your market, not your banker. I’m afraid bankers are targeted by a lot of these ad buys. Bankers are supposed to be sitting there, stuffed with dressing, before TV sets, watching football and pretending to supervise kids playing Pokemon games on the floor. (Here’s some news for you – if the stereotype is true, they’re sleeping.) If those bankers – investment, venture, or otherwise – know a thing about branding and marketing, ad buys like these should be giving them serious indigestion. Best to let them sleep.

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