Online Advertising: On the Brink of a New Era?

If you want to believe the latest hype, online advertising might as well be dead. Disney just announced that it’s closing and severely cutting back its Internet operations. Amazon’s slashing 1,300 jobs, and even the infamous seems to have expanded its rumor mill beyond “dot-coms” to sensational stories about established blue-chip clients.

A recent series of articles on discussed probably the most significant issue facing online advertising at the moment. To quote Fortune, “What should really have Web sites trembling is that big advertisers have suddenly gotten their heads around the Web. And the more they embrace it, the less inclined they seem to throw heaps of money at portals, ad networks, and other stand-alone sites.”

A report from CNNfn had this to say: “The GDP report showed that growth in consumer spending — which fuels about two-thirds of the country’s economy — slowed to a 2.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter of 2000 from 4.5 percent in the third quarter. Analysts had predicted a drop-off in consumer spending, after a lackluster holiday shopping season that underscored consumers’ cautious outlook.”

Since the new economy seems to be the whipping boy for our slow economic growth, Internet advertising has suffered severely, calling into question the value of marketing on the Internet at all.

Don’t get too discouraged; the current state of Internet advertising just may be a catalyst for making some much-needed improvements.

  1. Moving beyond the banner-ad format. When banner click-though rates were high and CTR was considered a key metric to success, many sites saw little reason to cooperate with advertisers who were looking to create more enhanced user experiences. As Fortune noted, “When big advertisers tried to break out of the banner format, they were rebuffed. Web sites complained that sophisticated ads with animated images crashed machines and alienated viewers.” Now that we have better tools to create interactive campaigns, it’s time for media properties and ad networks to be more flexible in accepting all kinds of creative from advertisers.

  2. Quality not quantity. A great commercial or a beautiful magazine often has high production values that a consumer can appreciate. It has always been a major struggle to get clients to recognize that great interactive advertising takes time to implement. The first-mover imperative overpowered everything with the commonly held belief that the first marketer to position its product would essentially win the game. We can thank for dispelling that myth. This change in the interactive advertising market demands well-thought-out strategies and higher production values to reach a .GIF-jaded consumer who is responding to an advertiser’s message. .GIFs are soooo 20th century — let’s move on.

  3. Integration doesn’t mean repurposing. For a long time, it has been either repurpose traditional advertising on the Web — which doesn’t work, because interactive media are fundamentally different from broadcast media — or have the interactive component work independently of traditional advertising — which works better. Work developed conceptually and tactically works with the medium to create a positive interaction with the brand, create dialogue with users, and develop the customer relationship. Of course, both of these approaches are flawed because the first tries to fit a square peg into a round hole, and the second lacks synergy with traditional media.

    Nike did one of the best jobs of integrating the Web with traditional advertising about a year ago with its site. Nike’s somewhat publicized campaign did what it set out to do. Through a combination of rich media Web advertising, a cliffhanger TV spot, and an engaging e-commerce-enabled site, Nike increased sales and created yet another branding experience people would not soon forget… at least not in the advertising world.

    In fact, this approach was so powerful that at the time, the TV networks playing the spots felt so threatened they pulled the spots. It seems major TV networks don’t like the prospect of viewers leaving their programming to go follow an adventure on the Internet.

    My point here is that true integration is kind of scary to many of the established powers that be on the media side. When times are good, there is little reason for media to be flexible. Hopefully, the current situation in the industry will compel agencies and advertisers to implement truly integrated marketing campaigns versus merely giving lip service to integration and continuing to work in silos independent of one another.

Internet advertising will survive. Online media outlets may have to make some adjustments to attract advertisers. Those that don’t adapt, as always, won’t survive. We’re experiencing a strategic inflection point in the Internet advertising industry; the direction we choose now will decide the direction of the next era of online advertising.

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