Site Specific

Once a novelty, it’s become a convention that offline ads nearly always include the advertiser’s Web address. This is as true for primetime TV as it is for down-market podiatrists trolling for patients in the subway. Although the ubiquity of URLs in offline advertising demonstrates we’re making progress, the sophistication of the way they’ve been included is not progressing much at all. Why do so few of these advertisers offer any indication why they want you to visit their sites?

A Web site has become a necessity for most advertisers, whether or not they advertise online. This makes them, like it or not, online marketers. Large or small, commercial Web sites contain (in varying degrees) information about products and services; methods for buying them; ways of contacting or visiting the company; order and delivery information; and frequently, broader details on the industry or product category in question. Building and maintaining that site is an investment — an investment you’d think companies would want to use to best advantage.

Yet in most offline ads, the mandatory URL (usually in the nether region of the page or screen) might as well read “www.WhyBother.com.” Knowing a company URL is about as illuminating as knowing its Zip Code.

If I Go There, What Do I Get?

In the debates over issues facing the industry — cross- and multi-channel advertising, the Web’s potential as a branding medium, and standardized metrics — marketers have largely ignored connecting on- and offline in even the simplest ways. Tying a call to action or value proposition to “www.HeresOurUrl.com” just plain makes sense.

There are plenty of reasons why this doesn’t happen as often as it should. The usual silos rending interactive and traditional asunder in agencies and internal marketing departments are partially to blame. But this goes beyond the usual on- versus offline “Why can’t everyone play nicely together?” question. All marketing’s stepchildren, from direct to PR, must be cobbled into the ad mix to drive audiences online and thereby deeper into advertisers’ message and brand.

A report this week revealed 47 percent of the 45.1 million wired U.S. adults who have a TV and a PC in the same room frequently surf both simultaneously.

Most Web activity while the TV’s on isn’t about what’s on the tube: 74 percent reported surfing unrelated to the TV show; 52 percent said their computer was offline. Only 15 percent said they’d visited a Web site about the show being watched.

People only have so much time. It’s unrealistic to expect them not to do homework, check bank balances, pay bills, or IM a friend without TV droning in the background. I’ll bet even inattentive viewers could be lured online by a TV spot with a compelling call to action to visit a Web site.

Wouldn’t a special offer, freebie, or contest induce you to open another browser window and visit an advertiser’s site? You’re multitasking anyway, right? Perhaps you’re online researching a major purchase, such as a new car. A commercial could send you straight to Volvo, Ford, or Audi to check out features — or at least impel you to remember to do so later.

Pepsi, Levi’s, and M&M’s all had success driving people online to vote in polls (and immerse themselves in the brands). Integrating offline ads with online presence leverages the dollars spent on each medium. It affords opportunities for advertisers to collect data and track response. As studies are starting to indicate, online ads could strengthen the effectiveness of offline counterparts
— and vice versa.

Direct mail pieces can push prospects to a Web site with inducements that go beyond mere words. A snail-mailed CD-ROM whisks recipients on an online tour of an advertiser’s offerings. A direct mail piece can include a colored cellophane “decoder.” The customer plasters it against her monitor to learn if she’s won a sweepstakes (after providing the advertiser with valuable registration data).

Most business executives (and an overwhelming majority of C-level execs) say the Web is where they go to research purchase decisions and learn about new products and services. Why aren’t more print ads in business publications such as The Wall Street Journal offering explicit incentives to go online? Why don’t ads explain the benefits of browsing advertisers’ sites? Reinforced with the extra branding power and deeper information of online, offline marketing would be much more meaningful and deliver higher return on investment (ROI).

Offline advertisers harnessing online’s ability to amplify messages need to use some common sense. (The assumption magazine readers are hardwired into CueCats was blissfully short-lived.) Create dedicated URLs audiences can easily remember when they get back to their computers (e.g., www.XCompany-Contest.com). Reinforce the URL with color, sound, and graphics. It’s not a footnote. Don’t stick it in the fine print. If you created a dedicated site, microsite, or page for a campaign, point to it from your home page.

Major retailers drive online customers into brick-and-mortar stores with email coupons — because it works. Make it a two-way street.

You built a Web site. You advertise. It couldn’t hurt for the twain to finally meet.

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