Online Classifieds: A Fresh Look, Part 1

I rarely think of media buyers as anything but account planners, strategists, and marketers working on behalf of a corporation or agency client. Fact is, though, buying online media is no longer limited to industry professionals. Online, anyone can be a media buyer, thanks to a form of media created especially for the masses.

Classified advertising tends to evoke images of text-heavy pages, smudged newspaper ink, and free kittens. Traditionally, it’s been reserved for such advertisers as property rental agencies, corporate employers, car dealers, and, yes, your average consumer.

As the industry has evolved, so too have the benefits of classified advertising for the average joe. It started with newspapers offering classifieds placements on their sites in conjunction with offline listings, usually as added value to print advertisers. As traffic to those sites began to grow along with the popularity of online media, demand for Web-based placements took off and newspapers began expanding their offerings.

A few years ago, major papers started introducing self-serve online ad tools that allowed advertisers to choose whether they wanted their ads to appear online, offline, or both. These user-friendly tools let them create and book their ads right on the newspaper sites instead of having to speak with a sales rep over the phone.

Many even offered enhanced features, such as additional lines of text, images, and icons for the online placements, further increasing their value. Suddenly, a consumer with a couple of bucks and a need to unload an old car could have his ad seen by countless potential buyers on the Web, instead of just a handful of neighbors in the local coffee shop.

But that’s not where the value for this car-seller ends. Not only does virtually every major newspaper site now offer an automated classified ad placement tool, but many have created or partnered with additional properties and portals to showcase their advertisers’ ads. IllinoisCareers.com, for example, aggregates job listings from over 20 small-circulation newspapers. Canadian media company CanWest has launched such properties as working.com, driving.ca, and renting.ca to expand the reach of employment, automotive, and rental property advertisers from its stable of nearly a dozen newspapers.

Focused on popular classified verticals, such properties also offer additional placement options, like banner ads featuring clickable classified listings. Then there are the added distribution streams, such as RSS, e-mail alerts, and interactive kiosks.

It’s enough to make a professional media buyer green with envy. How often do we toil over potential placements, longing for this sort of expanded reach? Or dream of a simplified process in which ads could be created and placed in minutes via a self-serve online tool? Yet it’s the consumer who’s on the receiving end of this medium insofar as advertising flexibility and convenience is concerned.

Unless you’re a buyer who works in an industry that correlates with one of those common classifieds verticals, that is. The real beauty of classified listings, after all, is they aren’t strictly limited to one type of advertiser. They’re a great vehicle to reach consumers interested in real estate, cars, jobs, and travel — even without posting a typical classified listing.

Most sites aggregating classified ads offer bountiful banner placements. Some go out of their way to create custom marketing opportunities. I recently heard about a newspaper property that was approached by a car rental agency interested in targeting consumers researching auto classified ads. Although no such placements were available, the site countered with a successful custom-built road trip promotion among its travel ads.

Because online classified advertising remains a relatively immature industry, you’ll find many properties willing to work with you to meet your needs. You may not enjoy quite the simplified experience your media-buying consumer counterpart will, but you’ll benefit from the same reach that’s fueling industry growth.

Next week, I’ll offer some classified ad opportunities that will have you viewing this industry a little differently. The only smudged ink you’ll see is on your next insertion order.

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