Online Advertising: Lets Prove That It Works

I particularly enjoyed Jeffrey Graham’s column this past Monday entitled “Slandering Online Advertising.” Right now, it’s fashionable for analysts to bash online advertising companies, claiming that online ads are not as effective as their traditional media counterparts.

Sophisticated online advertisers know this simply isn’t the case. While we can cry foul all we want about online advertising’s bad rap, we need to take a step back and think of the things we can do to help get our industry out of its slump.

I’m reminded of an old journalism professor’s words of wisdom: “Don’t tell me. Show me.” While this was frequently scrawled across the top of my Journalism 101 assignments in red ink, it also applies to the challenge that the online advertising business is currently faced with. We can scream “Online advertising works!” until we’re blue in the face, but the reality of the situation is that we’re not going to attract big-name, big-budget advertisers to Internet advertising until we show success in terms they can clearly understand.

Mr. Graham was on the right track when he cited Dynamic Logic as a way to communicate the effect of an online ad campaign on attitudinal measures. I’ve mentioned its AdIndex service several times in this column, so I won’t elaborate, but I just want to point out that the success metrics that Dynamic Logic can bring to the table are nearly identical to the ones that brand managers are used to seeing in their traditional advertising campaigns. Demonstrable success in moving purchase intent, or brand awareness using online media, can only do the industry some good.

Another way to attract large brand advertisers is through the use of widely published case studies. Let’s face it, lately big-budget advertisers have been hearing a lot more negative comments about online advertising than positive comments. This is where I have a beef with the trade media. While we can publish case studies involving rich media with Bill McCloskey’s Emerging Interest newsletter or through ChannelSeven and the like, it’s tough to get news out to brand managers about how successful our online ad campaigns are. Aside from giving our best case studies to our agency’s new business team, the opportunities to get a story out to the people that matter are pretty few and far between.

While I was trying to think of new ways to reach the big traditional advertisers, a question occurred to me: Where is the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) in our time of need? One might think it’d be amassing a treasure chest of case studies to prove online advertising’s success, but I don’t see any such effort underway on its site. I would expect that a visit to the IAB’s web site might turn up some quantifiable proof that online advertising works. Instead, the vast majority of what I see there consists of reports on online media spending and research on the privacy issue and wireless. Sure, it references the branding studies from HotWired and Millward Brown Interactive, but shouldn’t there be a central depository of case studies on campaigns that have worked?

In closing, I’d like to appeal to the online agency community in general. Work with your existing clients to tell your story about how online advertising has worked for them. Start the PR ball rolling and start pitching the Ad Ages, BrandWeeks, and vertical industry trade publications of the world on case-study-based story ideas. If we don’t start counteracting the negative publicity now, it’s going to be a longer, tougher climb upward next year.

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