Sponsorships: The Pathway to Clicks

By now, you’re bound to have heard about DoubleClick’s new online advertising figures, which indicate an overall increase in click-through rates (CTRs), from 0.44 percent in February 2000 to 0.83 percent in February 2002. This is a positive sign of things to come for our oppressed industry. We’re still nowhere near where we know we could be (or should be, for that matter), but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

If you’re wondering how this could have happened — considering the recent media commotion about negative consumer attitudes about online advertising — DoubleClick has given partial credit to less ad clutter in the online space. Pages have fewer ads to overwhelm, and thus repel, Internet users.

This information reinforces what marketers have long suspected. We knew enough already to stay away from sites saturated with advertising, but having our instincts validated will certainly bolster our confidence as we continue to buy media placements based on the assumption that less is more. It will also affect the type of placements that we choose and the frequency with which we employ them. Media buyers will look to placement options that eliminate ad clutter and enhance their clients’ online exposure. Which one will they choose? The sponsorship.

Often overlooked for sexier rich-media alternatives, site and email sponsorships offer advertisers the unique opportunity to elbow out competitors and “own” a space that is designed specifically to speak to their target audiences. Sponsorship opportunities abound in both consumer and business-to-business (B2B) markets. On the consumer side, many special interest sites offer banner and text link placements in their HTML newsletters. For the B2B market, sponsorship placements in text newsletters can be most effective.

Most newsletters abide by strict guidelines that allow only one or two sponsors per edition. This lack of ad clutter directs a spotlight on the advertisers, eliminating one of the major challenges they have to face. Blocking out the competition won’t guarantee you clicks, but it will give you more control over your ability to get readers’ attention. When you’re the only advertiser in sight, their actions will be guided by the power of your ad message and the relevance of your product, and your peers won’t have the chance to distract them.

If branding is a primary objective and you feel you need a more prominent placement to get your message across, then a content-specific site sponsorship might be for you. Imagine the power of being the sole advertiser in a section of a site that is pertinent to your business and maintains a loyal following of your target consumers. Let’s assume that your client is in the email deployment business. What better way to get qualified clicks than to sponsor a column about email marketing deployment on a site for online marketers? It’s a win-win situation, for advertisers and Internet users alike. Site visitors are provided with advertising that is highly relevant to their businesses and is likely to pique their interest, while your client is guaranteed a captive audience of potential customers.

Sponsorship placements are becoming so popular that some sites are even crossbreeding online “advertorials” with section-specific sponsorship placements. Sometimes called content-integration or mini-site opportunities, these placements allow the advertiser to sponsor a relevant section of the site created by its editorial staff expressly to highlight the sponsor’s business (e.g., a home decorating site posts an article on choosing the right paint color for your home, and a paint seller sponsors the section).

As ideal as these advertising scenarios may be, keep in mind that they’re also a minefield. Once you’re in front of your target market, you have to tread lightly to stay on viewers’ good side. Visitors to the site will be exposed to your ads for a prolonged period of time. This is great if your ad appeals to them, but if it employs a lot of animation, you risk annoying them. Don’t ever forget that users are there for the site content, not for the advertising. If your ads are continuously rotating or flashing in their peripheral vision, you’re bound to distract and irritate them — especially if your placement is a vertical skyscraper that they can’t escape by scrolling. How would you respond to an advertiser who just disrupted your reading respite? Ask yourself this question before submitting your creative, and save yourself wasted ad dollars. For sponsorship placements in a content-rich environment, static ads are your best bet for success.

CTRs aren’t everything, even when they’re the product of a targeted sponsorship. It may be sales that count, but a high CTR is a springboard for getting there. And a sponsorship placement can drive yours sky-high.

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