Online Marketing’s Oddballs and Misfits

As thousands flocked to ad:tech at the Javits Center, New York City’s cavernous convention center, there was euphoria. “Great to see online advertising survive through the brutal recession,” wrote Chris Pavlovski, CEO of Jolt Media Group, on Twitter, summing up a sentiment overheard many times last week.

Still, there were signs that online marketing and technologies supporting the sector have not matured as far as one might expect. Can we declare an end to the recession if ventures have money to burn on unremarkable business plans or goofy marketing messages? Or should we fear that online marketing is headed for a bust?

“There was little differentiation between the messages, the services, and the presentation styles of the participating vendors,” observed Scott Hoffman, formerly of Lotame and Yahoo, in a post on his Cliqology blog. He’s now one of the founders of Jum.by, a real-time recommendation company.

Maybe I don’t appreciate event marketing or booth babes. Or maybe my search for swag blinded me from noticing more noteworthy ad technologies. But here are five reasons why I fear that there’s an online marketing bubble. Note: This assessment is based on visits to ad:tech exhibitors’ booths and a scan of the conference brochure. It is not the result of a thoughtful analysis of corporate earnings reports, conversations with customers, or other generally accepted best practices to evaluate vendors.

OrderOnlineDrugs.com: What is the connection between a Canada-based online pharmacy and an advertising technology conference? One possible explanation: anti-anxiety pills.

TheBabyCD.com: “An interactive resource for newly expecting moms to learn about their experience and new products during and after pregnancy.” Wow! Forget about the bubble. Think time warp. Or wrong demographic.

DealPig.com: “Go Big With the Pig. We’ll Handle the D.I.R.T,” reads this vendor’s Web site. What’s up with that? Online, it describes itself as “an association of Internet professionals with the purpose of developing better relationships, doing bigger and better deals and bringing transparency to the online marketing world.” What’s more, DealPig has an intriguing event listed on its Web site: an Amazon rainforest retreat and workshop planned in Colombia. Is carne de cerdo on the menu?

Adfunky.com: It’s an ad network, so it was right at home at an ad technology conference. But it’s saddled with a strange name and strange swag — a golf-ball sized disco ball. So, if this firm is not paying homage to “Saturday Night Fever,” what exactly does it do? According to Adfunky’s Web site, it represents Yahoo in Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela. Because it’s working in a country where Hugo Chávez is president, I guess it has to be a little funky.

Meta Network: To promote “safe advertising” and “optimize your ROI,” this performance-based ad network handed out blue condoms. To be safe, it did not hand out little blue pills. Guess that’s for OrderOnlineDrugs to fulfill.

On Twitter, CNBC Editor Dennis Kneale offered this assessment: “They were selling a lot of fear at AdTech…fear of bad customers, fear your ad runs on dirty site, fear a dirty ad runs on your site.”

He’s right. There’s still a lot to fear in online and offline marketing and advertising.

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