The Kids Are Alright

One constant I’ve seen in covering technology for nearly 20 years has been a basic childishness in the exercise.

It’s a lesson I drew from my 8-year-old son. By the time John masters a toy, he’s tired of it. Whether it’s a puzzle or a book, a CD-ROM or an Internet game, he learns it well enough to play it well enough, then goes on to something else.

This is why, once we’d mastered our PCs, we insisted on Windows. Once we had Windows (almost) working, we wanted multimedia. Once we had an Internet connection, we wanted broadband.

At this week’s @d:tech show in the New York Hilton, this “been there, done that” attitude has descended on web banners. All the cool kids, the exhibitors filling the ballrooms and spilling into the hallways, are showing off pop-up, streaming, commerce-in-the-link whoop-de-does. These are the Buzz Lightyears in the ad business toy box.

The kids who have mastered banners, this toy story’s Woody dolls, showed their wares at the @d:tech Online Measurement Study panel, a two-hour marathon filled with numbers that outlasted most of the audience, except of course for some “girls” who saw through it and spoiled things for everyone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Experts from Media Metrix, Millward Brown Interactive, Nielsen NetRatings, I/Pro, DoubleClick and AdKnowledge described work done for the Points of Life Foundation in exquisite, mathematically precise detail. The industry sponsored and measured a web ad campaign during September and October for the foundation, doing some good and showing everyone how they can all play together.

Then one young woman punctured the whole exercise with a single question. “Didn’t you measure the actual volunteer sign-ups?” she asked.

“We would have loved to have done it,” admitted Tim Reed of I/Pro, the panel’s chair. “We just weren’t able to coordinate.”

Now to be fair, the boys had more numbers than an old Avalon Hill war game. They had panels ranging in size from 500,000 to 2.5 million people. The campaign reached 2.5 percent of Internet users, reported Rex Briggs of Millward Brown Interactive. The median age of those who viewed the ads was 36.7, their median household income $54,000,and 70 percent viewed the ads from home. “I tried to pull together some demographic data,” he added. “I thought it was interesting.”

The fact is that web banners can be targeted and measured, their impact on brand awareness and acceptance can be surveyed and calculated. When purchased in conjunction with other advertising media, and when campaigns are executed with discipline, web banners can be highly effective.

The Points of Light Foundation campaign wasn’t very successful. It was a freebie, but the panel came up with some fine strategies for improving it, for changing the creative a bit, for competing with those ubiquitous recycling ads, and for targeting the 9 percent of people who care about non-profit volunteering.

Yes, these kids were alright, which may be why they’re no longer cool in tech school.

To me, it sounds like an opportunity for banner buyers. Why risk relationships on new, untried technology when you have something you can measure and understand?

I don’t know, I’m just asking.

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