Getting That Offline Money

The big story of 2001 has to be the effort being made by online media to get some of that offline ad money.

Sure we had a great year last year, but growth was already slowing in the fourth quarter, and things have only gotten worse since.

The total ad market is looking like it won’t grow in 2001, so competition from print and broadcast will be intense this year as online advertisers look to gain new business.

So while I don’t usually rush to cover the announcement of new committees, Unicast’s announcement today that it’s formed a Strategy Advisory Board is an exception.

One reason is that Unicast has already been successful in its effort to bring offline budgets online.

Allie Shaw, Unicast’s vice president of worldwide marketing, told me last week (in an exclusive ClickZ interview, since we were the only two people on the phone) that 95 percent of advertisers using her firm’s SUPERSTITIAL format are traditional advertisers, and 85 percent are repeat customers.

The second reason is that the board’s agency and advertiser committee includes people we need to hear from. Specifically, it includes Gina Shaffer of Miller Brewing Company and Kevin Campbell of Universal Studios. Most people will never buy beer online, and movies usually have just a few weeks to build an audience.

“We hope to get at the heart of what has to be explored to take more money away from other media, then bring that learning to the partner committee so Web sites can support that,” said Shaw.

Some learning has already taken place. For instance, “The main issue of advertisers isn’t measurement. They need ways to prove that the medium reaches their consumers in a different environment, how it works in an integrated campaign, and why the online relationship with a consumer is important.”

The metric we use to measure success, in other words, is wrong. Click-throughs are fine if you’re measuring click-throughs, but the real question is whether an advertiser using this medium is reaching different people in a different way and whether he or she can make the deeper relationships built online pay on the bottom line.

Another message from Unicast’s experience is that if advertisers are to integrate the Net into their total campaigns, Net ads have to look like all other ads. Unicast solves this by not showing an ad unless the user’s browser can support it and by delivering a format that can play 100K files in 20 seconds in pop-ups that are two-thirds the size of the screen.

“They want the Golden Arches to look the same regardless of [the] medium. To ask them to compromise a brand because of a different medium or a different technology is ridiculous — you don’t get money that way,” said Shaw.

I’m sure some money from McDonald’s would taste yummy in your ad budget, but the Miller appointment is also intriguing. After all, a tobacco company — Philip Morris — owns Miller. It’s being terribly restricted in other media. Can dot-smoke save some dot-coms? Stay tuned.

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