Make Your .Com Memorable

Quick! Name a web site you saw advertised on TV over the past month that’s not Amazon.com! Having a tough time remembering just who all those commercials were for? Don’t fret – 99 out of 100 other folks out there are having the same problem.

According to a new survey of 1,700 people by Active Research of San Francisco, CA, the average un-aided recall for .com advertising was approximately 1 percent. Think that’s bad? Twenty-five percent of respondents had no recall of any .com advertising! Yikes!

If you’ve watched television, listened to the radio, picked up a magazine, or driven by a billboard any time during the past three months, you’ve probably been assaulted by more website advertising than you could shake the proverbial stick at.

In Silicon Valley alone, fully 17 percent of all radio advertising and 11 percent of all outdoor advertising is being snapped up by Net companies. Nationwide, spending is way up, with .coms spending 755 million dollars in the first half of 1999, and you can bet’cher bottom dollar that number’s going to be a lot higher once the holiday rush is over – Competitive Media Reporting puts the number at close to a billion bucks.

I haven’t done a scientific study, but it seems to me that at least 75 percent of all the ads I see during primetime are some sort of .com trying to get my attention. I know I’ve seen a bunch of pet store ads, a passel of music store spots, and a whole bushel of online software stores. But ask me to name more than a couple, and I’ve gotta say that I fall somewhere in that 99 percent who can’t remember a dang thing.

Why is this? Why is recall on .com advertising so lousy? Why does it all seem to blur into a uniform Technicolor haze of unmemorable goofy spots? Because the web has become a victim of its own successful promotion.

Think about it: What do you remember most about the new online brands? I’ll tell you what I remember: What I heard last… the “.com” in the name. “Checkout.com,” “Bizrate.com,” “Petopia.com,”… you get the picture. Instead of the store itself being the brand, the location… the .com… has become the brand we remember. We know that these things are on the web, but our memories get a little fuzzy after that. “That’s a .com, right?”

But the problem doesn’t stop at branding… my own grouchy feeling about the lack of .com advertising success is that so much of the creative just plain sucks. Sure, the geek boy millionaires back at corporate might think that nerds holding hands is uproariously funny, but I’d bet you that most folks in middle America – the real demographic we should be after – are just scratching their heads and flipping over to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

If we’re going to move the web into the mainstream, expanding our markets and building brands into the future, we’ve got to take a long, hard look at how advertising and the web are going to work together. Forrester Research rightly points out that the effort is going to take a coordinated effort between all media to keep reaching consumers, something I heartily agree with.

In fact, as the number of news media continue to grow through wireless and broadband, the number of sales channels will only increase. But we must never forget that as much as things will change, the more they will stay the same.

People need to be persuaded through information and a clear explanation of benefits – something even more relevant when you’re asking them to get out of their Barcoloungers and get online. They need clear branding messages that are placed well and are relevant to their needs. And to reach them, we’ll have to stop hoping that one medium’s going to do the trick.

It’s time to get back to basics while confronting the realities of today’s world. Reaching today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers will take a coordinated effort that goes beyond just throwing a bunch of money and dubious talent at the problem:

  1. Don’t forget PR. Dollar-for-dollar, a coordinated public relations campaign can build buzz and brand loyalty far beyond traditional advertising. Amazon.com is a PR triumph, not an advertising win.

  2. Drop the .com. Sure, people need to know you’re on the web, but if you’re going to cut through the clutter, you may want to start focusing on building a brand that transcends your store’s location.
  3. Be everywhere. Don’t blow the farm on TV or one big content sponsorship deal if that money could be spent on a wide variety of media.
  4. Think placement. Identify your target and go after it like a starving rat after a chicken bone floating down the gutter. Don’t waste time on “run of site” ads or media that can’t identify who you’re going to be speaking to.
  5. Test, test, test. Be fast, be flexible. Try a lot of stuff rather than do it all at the same time. Try services that let you keep trying different ways of reaching people.
  6. Know your audience. It may seem really obvious, but you’d better know who you’re trying to reach. Just because an ad’s cool doesn’t mean it’s going to work.
  7. Leverage your contacts. Don’t just assume that consumers are the only ones who need to hear your message. Analysts and investors may be easier and cheaper to reach and could potentially have a bigger impact for less dollars.
  8. Look towards other media. Streaming media, broadband, and wireless are all starting to open new channels where you can reach people. Give them a try and see how they work for you.
  9. Give people a reason to visit. Your ads have to get me up out of my chair and on to my computer. Why is your site any better than the thousands of others clamoring for my attention? Tell me, clearly!
  10. Hire back and re-train the old marketing people. A lot of mistakes being made now can be chalked up to inexperience. Those old marketing folks may not have known a lot about the Internet, but they have spent their lives convincing people to buy products a lot less exciting that what you’re selling now. Acquire and leverage that experience by combining their lifetime experience with your Net know-how. It’s a powerful combination.

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