Quality Time

Did you see the recent full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal with the headline, “The Future of Advertising”? It’s part of a series sponsored by the WSJ and WSJ.com, with help from an ad agency and, with this particular ad, a major airline.

Too bad there was nothing in the ad about the “future of advertising.”

Do you want to know about the future of online advertising? It’s going to be huge. Unlike the ad, I’jll show you why.

Telling Data

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the sites below were the top sites this past April, as ranked by average time spent on the site during that month:

Site/Brand Time/
PalTalk 7:34:19 441
AOL 6:22:46 69,760
mIRC 6:00:29 639
Juno Online Services 4:56:35 4,968
WizKids Games 4:46:20 329
Slingo 4:01:57 1,242
Trillian 3:46:31 962
Neopets 3:32:02 2,679
RuneScape 2:48:49 660
Yahoo 2:44:33 93,049
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

There is much to learn from the list (which, by the way, excludes adult sites).

How many of you saw this list? Too often, it’s believed the top sites are those with the highest total number of visitors. But that figure doesn’t indicate where people really spend their time online (particularly when companies do things like redirect Hotmail users to MSN.com when they log out of Hotmail, as Microsoft does. I wonder if that increases the total number of MSN “visitors”?).

These sites’ average users spend more time on the sites than even the most loyal “Friends” viewers could spend watching the show on a monthly basis (excluding syndication). “Friends” ran weekly on NBC for (usually) two hours of monthly viewing. The average visitor to the sites above spends a minimum of 45 more minutes (within Yahoo) or up to almost five hours more (PalTalk) than they could watching “Friends.”

This is extraordinary.

An average Slingo visitor spends at least twice as much time on the game site than viewers could watching “Friends.” Since these are average times, many Slingo players spend much more time than that. Sure, the number of site visitors (1.2 million) doesn’t match that of the total “Friends” viewers (roughly 26 million per episode). But the audience composition of “Friends” is also more diverse than that of Slingo.

What are the advertising implications of a Web site that has a large female audience ages 25-40, as does Slingo? And what are the implications of seeing auto tire ads on the site, which is what I saw when I visited?

For a younger crowd, Neopets had 2.6 million visitors who spent an average of 3 hours, 32 minutes on the site. That number of visitors matches the levels of some lower ranking TV programs on UPN and the WB these days. So though single Web sites don’t yet have the same number of “viewers” as top-rated TV shows, some of the more popular sites do have audiences at about the same levels as some TV shows.

The advertising implications are profound. Clearly, people are spending some serious time online. Advertisers wanting to reach them must have their ads online. People are demonstrating loyalty to certain sites by spending so much time on them. This affords opportunities to advertisers to have that loyalty transferred to their products through sponsorships and other promotional activities.

Finally, notice how people spend their time. They’re communicating and playing games. Except for AOL, Juno, and Yahoo (exactly what users do under these catch-all umbrellas can’t be determined), each of the top sites provides communication (PalTalk, mIRC) or games.

Communication and gaming require participant interaction. That’s a very different experience from watching television. How does that affect an advertising strategy?

I could go on, but the point is the future of online advertising is the future of advertising. If people spend this much time online, you have to advertise online to reach certain audiences.

There are some great opportunities out there for advertisers and marketers. What are your potential customers doing online? Where are they spending their time?

Do you have programs in place to take advantage of the answers?

This, loyal readers, is a glimpse at your “Future of Online Advertising.”

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

Related reading