Gator: Fair Game?

It’s a topic that has been discussed a lot in online media: How far can the industry push the limits to make Web advertising a sustainable medium without overstepping its bounds? And we never really seem to get an answer.

This issue arose a few weeks ago, when allegations arose between and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The IAB identified Gator’s approach to be inappropriate and expressed its disapproval toward Gator’s aggressive marketing product.

Gator has been around for a long time in Internet terms, but it has gained the most attention in recent months. Gator is a plug-in application that helps users remember passwords and other personal information. The technology also allows advertisers to advertise almost directly over a competing company’s advertisement with banners, pop-ups, or other creative formats.

Essentially, an advertiser can go directly after its competitors by placing advertising over the competitor’s advertising. With Gator’s ability, a company’s media placements for an ad campaign might be paid for and delivered — except that no end users become exposed to the ads. Ads can also appear when the user arrives at a related or competing site, thus providing a strong alternative to the individual surfing a site.

This guerilla-marketing tactic has been around the Web-advertising arena for a while now, but only as of late has it been seriously scrutinized. For example, some of you may still recall and its viewbar, where advertisers were presented with a number of targeting options, including timely ads when users hit a specified site. It was a great targeting option (while the company lasted) and took very little heat for the aggressiveness of the strategy it allowed.

So why is Gator any different? Why now? This is a product designed to deliver results from ad dollars, but it’s still not accepted. At a time when Internet advertising is having to prove itself over and over, it’s easier to sell when results are delivered, and these tools do help drive results. Agencies and sales reps might find good, short-term value here — but very little long-term sustainability, because brands will be damaged.

The real winner for Gator, as the debate continues, may end up being the original software that fills out registration forms for users. It may also provide short-term benefit to us as advertisers, because it can become easier to build databases through incentive programs such as contests and sweepstakes. However, let’s consider the long term.

Marketers looking to build lists of qualified individuals through such incentive programs often have trouble maintaining list quality, as lists get diluted with contest seekers. Software products such as Gator allow users to complete registration forms effortlessly in seconds, increasing registration levels for such programs. Because it is easier to register and the time requirement is small, more contest participants will register than would normally. Marketers need to address this issue, because the quality of their databases will be diluted, and recipients will become less responsive to offers later on.

Advertisers looking to build quality lists through incentive programs need to be careful that the incentives offered to participants pertain to their specific interest group; they must avoid using generic incentives, such as cash prizes, that any contest seeker would find valuable. Keeping prizes related to your offerings will help reduce unwanted registrations; unqualified users will find such prizes less appealing.

We’ve seen a lot of short-term success in the dot-com world, in many cases with a huge downturn that follows. Solutions such as Gator may offer a similar scenario — an offering that appeals to advertisers immediately but is not sustainable for a long period.

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