LonelyPlanet.com Accepting Ads

Good media buyers are forever searching for just the right online publisher with which to align their clients. Choosing a site to advertise on isn’t just a matter of audience and ad rates, it’s also about brand.

Every site has one; an image, a reputation, and a consumer perception that can influence the success of an online ad campaign. Some, like Expedia and Gridskipper, achieve these entirely on the Web. Others enjoy residual status as the online counterpart of an offline original.

For years, many media buyers have coveted one travel site in particular, waiting for their opportunity to associate their clients with it: Lonely Planet. Come February 1, the site will accept advertising partners.

Founded in 1973, the Lonely Planet brand has long been considered a leading source for global travel information. Offline, the company publishes over 600 English-language titles and sells over 6.5 million books a year worldwide. Since 1994, travelers have also been able to conduct research online, at LonelyPlanet.com. The site offers information on 400 international travel destinations as well as a message board. It also sells the print guidebooks.

Until now, LonelyPlanet.com abstained from accepting display advertising, even as competitors such as Fodor’s and Frommer’s welcomed advertisers to their sites. Come next month, the site will offer banner and skyscraper ads through the Travel Ad Network (TAN), which also represents 40 other travel-related sites. Ads will first appear on the guidebook pages, which receive the most traffic. They’ll then be introduced into the rest of the Lonely Planet site.

LonelyPlanet.com boasts over 3 million unique monthly visitors. It’s rare for site of that size not to solicit ad revenue. According to the company, there’s more to its decision than income alone.

Its e-commerce VP has said introducing site advertising from select publishers will “provide valuable information to our users.” Indeed, the right advertising partnerships have been known to do just that. Web properties corresponding with consumer lifestyle and leisure brands, such as HGTV and Travel + Leisure, have long offered site sponsorships and partner promotions as a way of generating ad revenue and enhancing value as online content providers. An advertiser/publisher alliance can benefit those with a financial stake in the relationship and the Internet users who visit the site.

Going from a non-advertising format to a prominent banner one is challenging for publishers. Site visitors accustomed to the former are unlikely to immediately see the benefits of the latter. LonelyPlanet.com, however, has a solution to this dilemma: a tongue-in-cheek approach to launching the new ad model.

To prepare regular site visitors for the switch, prior to the ad launch LonelyPlanet.com will run house ads where paid ads will ultimately appear. They’ll sport such tag lines as “Relax, this won’t hurt a bit,” and “No pain, no gain.” These will run for about a week.

Like the company’s off- and online content, the internal ads will further solidify and substantiate the Lonely Planet brand. Their “ironic, self-aware” tone, the company says, is consistent with that of its other products.

One would think, with countless travel properties already out there, the addition of another ad-supported option wouldn’t have a huge effect on a media buyer’s plans. But just as marketers seek established brands to partner with offline, such as TV programs and magazines, a renowned online destination with a dedicated audience is far more appealing than a little-known Web site.

An advertiser who offers a relevant product and message and keeps her ads consistent with a site’s look, feel, and tone can find unlimited success through a partnership with a branded online property. Ads can become an extension of the site content. With mutually beneficial opportunities like these available for the taking, neither publisher nor advertiser need live a lonely online life.

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