Online or Offline?

Online… or off-?

There was no avoiding the question if you were in New York this week, dividing your time (and perhaps your alliances) between the enormous, splashy city-wide fiesta that was the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ (4As’) Advertising Week, and its much more modest sidebar, Interactive Advertising World (IAW), produced primarily under the auspices of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

What made it all so interesting were the implicit and explicit media choices and media affinities: Online or off-? 4As or IAB?

Rather than complementing each other, Advertising Week and IAW emitted a weirdly competitive vibe that seems to highlight some interesting fissures in the industry.

Divisions were also reflected in the two fascinating studies released this week by Yahoo and the Online Publishers Association (OPA).

Yahoo’s Internet deprivation study followed 13 households as they gave up all personal Internet use for a week. “I couldn’t bear living without it,” one participant moaned, pretty much summing up the findings.

The OPA study on media preference also pits online against everything else. The Generational Media Study finds the Internet is the top media choice across age groups, beating out even television.

Study after study confirms interactive is firmly in the mainstream. Interestingly, both studies were made public not within the framework of the interactive sidebar conference, but within the much broader context of Advertising Week, which, according to organizers, had some 60,000 attendees (the IAB couldn’t provide attendee figures yesterday, but its event wasn’t nearly on so broad a scale).

“I don’t think there was a conscious decision to choose one or the other,” said an OPA spokeswoman when asked why the online organization’s announcement was made outside the context of the interactive event. “[The study] dealt with other media; it was a little bit broader.”

OPA’s chief, Michael Zimbalist, attended IAW sessions and participated on a panel. Even so, his organization made a serious pitch for attention from media traditionalists. OPA rented an Upper East Side brownstone as the home of the organization’s new viral spokes-icon, Mr. Rich Media, who earlier had marched alongside better-known ad mascots in the Times Square parade. Mr. Media’s vintage white Caddy is parked outside the townhouse. Inside, rub shoulders with celebs, indulge in complimentary beauty treatments, and graze the open bar and gourmet meals prepared by Epicurious.com chefs.

Over the top? Not compared to how Yahoo dug into the 4As’ event. As a founding, and the first corporate, sponsor of Advertising Week, Yahoo backed (and hosted) the favorite advertising icon poll; the aforementioned Internet deprivation study; a “Leadership Breakfast”; a clutch of parties; and a nightly Creative Juice Bar. Additionally, CSO Wenda Harris Millard moderated a panel of top CMOs (Pepsi, ExxonMobil Fuels, Panasonic, and Volkswagen Group); and Yahoo participated in a Hispanic marketing panel. Not to mention that parade in Times Square.

“We believe online is at the grownups’ table,” explained Yahoo spokeswoman Nissa Anklesaria. “Everything we’ve been doing is not about interactive, it’s about the overall experience of advertising. Events we do sponsor, like the 4As and the ANA Management Conference, are mostly events that are attended by Fortune 100 marketers and agencies.”

“We work very closely with the IAB,” she continued. “We chair three committees, Wenda’s on the board. But as far as this week goes, we had Advertising Week, and, as you’ve seen, we have a lot going on. Overture was a sponsor of the IAB event. That’s more in line with the target for Overture.”

Yahoo execs say the fact its competitor AOL was a major sponsor of IAW didn’t influence their decision to commit to Advertising Week. Though AOL didn’t respond to a request for a comment, it’s safe to say the company is still mending fences with the interactive ad community.

MSN, meanwhile, was absent from both events’ sponsor lists. At the last minute, it decided to sponsor the IAW’s Online Media, Marketing and Advertising Awards (OMMAs) and dispatched marketing department eyes and ears to scope out both events. Yahoo’s influence at Advertising Week didn’t escape Redmond’s notice. With clients such as Visa and automotive brands, a rep confided, it’s unlikely MSN will take a pass next year.

And for the record, Google was the paid sponsor of an IAW breakfast. Evidently, the company’s a big and sexy enough player to garner what was probably Advertising Week’s only unpaid sponsor credit, a large reception for the Ad Council and Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

IAW was held within the framework of Advertising Week, but it required a separate ticket. “Their conference is their conference,” explained a 4As spokesperson. “The IAB is a member of the association organizing committee, and all the committee members are committed to holding an event during Advertising Week.”

“Sponsors were approached separately [from Advertising Week],” confirmed IAB spokeswoman Emily Kutner. “Companies are going to make their own individual decisions about how they’re going to use their sponsorship dollars.”

Certainly ClickZ would be the last to say events dedicated exclusively to interactive marketing are redundant or unnecessary. It’s no secret we throw the occasional powwow of our own, in addition to churning out reams of editorial copy on the topic. There’s certainly no dearth of subject matter, and no shortage of material that should be discussed within the context of the industry.

Yet this week, my editorial team (not to mention a bunch of ClickZ columnists) had to make choices. You can’t be in two places at the same time. I mentioned that fact to Yahoo’s Harris Millard when I congratulated her (at Yahoo’s Disconnected luncheon) for pulling together the previous day’s panel of CMOs. “It was a great panel, wasn’t it?” she said, with justified pride.

Advertising Week’s executive director, Matt Scheckner, is lavish with his praise for Yahoo’s decision to sponsor the center-ring event. “The lines of demarcation that have traditionally kept interactive in the broom closet have fallen,” he told me. “Interactive has taken its place alongside the other major genres of media. This was all about creating and exploiting a platform. To their credit, Yahoo seized it, leveraged it, and their ROI is off the charts. This was the quintessential win-win.”

Scheckner added the event’s sponsorship agreements don’t carry noncompete clauses. If Advertising Week and IAW continue next year (everyone’s saying they will), this could get interesting. Will Yahoo’s competitors commit sponsorship dollars to the IAB, 4As, or both? Will interactive industry associations such as the IAB and OPA team up to support the vertical or defend their own niches? It’s hard to say, but some sort of shakeout wouldn’t be surprising.

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