Study Reveals Disconnect Between Brand Ad Buyers and Sellers

Big brand advertisers are from Mars, while online publishers are from Venus. At least, that’s the gist of a new report from consulting firm Bain & Company and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The “Building Brands Online” study, which Bain presented today at an IAB gathering of marketing, advertising, and media industry executives in New York, finds several disconnects between what big brand advertisers are looking for in an online media buy, and what online publishers can offer them. However, some argue advertisers are asking too much of publishers.

Bain interviewed more than 700 brand advertisers, agencies, and publishers, and found that online ad formats have not evolved to meet the needs of brand advertisers. According to John Frelinghuysen, a partner in Bain & Company’s media practice and lead author of the study, brand advertisers are looking for more brand-building opportunities online, and they aren’t finding them.

“Ultimately, marketers are looking for media companies to offer a true triple-play service model from direct response to awareness to high impact brand engagement,” Frelinghuysen said in a statement. “This model is the key to staving off continued price erosion of online inventory.”

Brand advertisers reported that they would like to see online publishers create separate offerings for brand-building and direct response, and to develop more engaging ad options and formats, including social networks, video, and other rich media. Ideally, they’d rather have media companies help them create integrated campaigns instead of offering platform-specific media programs, according to the report.

“Because of the way the medium has grown up, publishers, marketers, and agencies have all fallen into the trap of trying to use direct-response ad units as branding vehicles,” Brian Wiener, CEO of digital agency 360i, told ClickZ. There is movement toward improving this problem, particularly with online video opportunities, he said.

While online media providers have always boasted of the measurability of online compared to offline ads, the report finds that the metrics being used don’t always match up with the needs of brand advertisers, who are looking for ways to measure online ads that more closely match those they’ve been using for years offline.

Brands have long been measuring the effect a TV campaign has on things like purchase consideration, awareness, and brand favorability. One problem with doing that online lies in the cost of doing those brand tracking studies online, compared to the budgets being spent there, Wiener said.

“The cost of research as a percentage of budget is too high. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” he said. “Their online budgets aren’t large because they don’t have metrics, and they don’t have metrics because their budgets are too small.”

Offline metrics like GRP, reach, and frequency, and attitude, usage, and awareness are all measurable online, according to David L. Smith, CEO and founder of digital media agency Mediasmith. Often, the problem results from advertisers getting distracted by traffic-related metrics, which happens when their Web site teams reside in IT departments instead of in marketing, he said.

“Maybe these brand advertisers have the wrong agency. I can cite lots of examples where advertisers are using online to move the needle on brand awareness, and meet brand goals,” Smith told ClickZ.

“They get caught up in click-through rates, and traffic to the site, rather than thinking about whether the advertising raises awareness, or drives people to the store to buy something,” Smith said.

Besides not finding the kinds of ad inventory they’re looking for, brand advertisers are encountering salespeople that don’t know enough about their category or business processes to effectively help them. Brand advertisers report that media companies lack category expertise when they sell to brand marketers and engage with them too late in the media planning process.

Educating those salespeople, and creating teams specific to vertical categories, is one of the top requests of brand advertisers, according to the report. Specifically, advertisers are interested in publishers offering deeper service and customized support for vertical industries, to help advertisers plan, create, and measure the brand impact of online ads.

Expecting publishers’ ad sales teams to become experts in all verticals is asking a bit much of them, according to Smith. “I don’t know any advertisers on the planet that do their own TV deals with a network. They use an agency,” Smith said. In the same manner, advertisers should be turning to agencies for that kind of expertise, instead of demanding it of publishers, he said.

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