Making Believers of Online Ad Skeptics

If you have any involvement with Web site publishers, whether as a media buyer, content developer or ad sales rep, it’s likely you’ve heard this contingent griping and grumbling about a deficiency in ad spending.

For those who are familiar with Internet media and know its capabilities firsthand, any tentativeness toward online spending is difficult to believe. Yet a recent GartnerG2 study clearly indicates offline buyers (and their clients) still aren’t ready to praise online’s power.

The study polled participants on what they saw as the chief barriers to greater interactive media usage. The primary obstacles included a lack of standardized measurement tools and systems for calculating return on investment, as well as skepticism in upper management and client circles. Also named was the absence of proof of the Internet’s abilities as a branding vehicle.

Though results included respondents’ views toward kiosks, wireless, and interactive TV media, in addition to the Internet, they represent a threat to an industry that’s already taken its share of hits (think spam and pop-up backlash).

Many online buyers, particularly those who work for exclusively interactive shops or on a contract basis, rely on offline referrals from these traditional marketers to generate a good portion of their business. That makes the results of this study disconcerting.

Aside from a career change, or reinventing the tracking and reporting tools currently used in online advertising, online buyers may think there isn’t much they can do to improve this dire situation. In fact, buyers already have at their disposal the exact brand of knowledge, as well as the contacts, that could sway traditional marketers once and for all.

Testing, Testing

Online marketers continue to endorse the importance of campaign testing before entire budgets are invested in Internet advertising initiatives. Testing ensures intelligent spending and saves on ad costs. It’s also a highly effective method for the convincing skeptics that the placements you’re recommending will work.

If you’re working with offline media buyers who oppose including an online element in their clients’ campaigns, offer to make a test buy to assuage any doubts (they can pass results on to any equally unsure clients). Granted, a test requires an initial investment for creative development. But if the potential payoff for a test that impresses is substantial (in other words, if the client is willing to spend if persuaded), you may be able to convince site publishers to give you inventory free of charge, or at a significantly reduced rate, to make up for production costs.

Such exchanges were common a few years ago, when sizeable online advertising investments were few and far between. In the current environment, you’re likely to be backed by publishers promoting new and unique formats or placements. Those are some of the best opportunities and can lead to groundbreaking future campaigns.

Proof is in the Audience

If a campaign test isn’t enough to convince online skeptics, point to the growing involvement of consumer audiences with the Internet for incitement. According to a report released earlier this year, online retail sales in the U.S. exceeded 45 billion in 2002. Thirty-seven percent of the total American working population is currently online. Of these users, 50 percent come from households earning $75K annually, or more.

It’s the responsibility of all media buyers to get their clients’ ads in front of a targeted (and substantial) audience. American consumers are investing increased time and money in the Internet. That should be reason enough for offline buyers and advertisers to invest a little in reaching them there as well.

Perhaps this study’s finding are not be as grim as they seem at first glance. Just around the time this report was released, U.K.-based Thomson Intermedia reported online ad spending in the IT industry all but doubled since this year’s first quarter. Another report, released in July, estimates total online ad spending will reach $6.3 billion by the end of the year, surpassing 2002 spending by 4.8 percent. Spending is also estimated to have increased over 12 percent between the first quarter of 2002 and 2003.

Growth may be minimal, but there’s progress just the same. Buyers, sales reps and Web site publishers — take heart!

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