The Negative-Press Generator

I can take a little negative press, but this is starting to get ridiculous. It’s bad enough when media outlets all across the world are painting a big question mark on the wall with respect to the effectiveness of online advertising, but I’m convinced that many journalists covering the online advertising industry are bashing it simply because it’s popular to do so. What leads me to believe this? I haven’t seen an original article covering the slump in online advertising for two months. Instead, I see many journalists simply rehashing what has already been said.

Yahoo is simply wonderful for gauging how the rest of the world views online advertising. I keep Yahoo Finance open all day at my desktop so I can track my portfolio and watch the news wires for articles pertaining to my stocks. As you can imagine, my portfolio is pretty tech heavy, so I’ve been seeing plenty of news articles concerning online advertising’s recent slump. Startlingly, it’s rare to see any of these articles bring something new to the table.

In honor of this “no news is still news” period in the business press’s history, I’m providing a new tool this week for those of you who have always wanted to become journalists. Use this “negative-press generator” to impress friends with your vast knowledge of the online advertising sector and to break into the field of journalism.

Shares of [Engage, 24/7 Media, DoubleClick, Mail.com] traded below their 52-week low this morning. Internet advertising stocks have been pummeled the past few months because of a slowdown in online ad spending. (Don’t worry about mentioning how online advertising spending compares to the rest of the advertising industry here. No one will ask or care.)

According to [Jupiter Media Metrix, Forrester Research, the Internet Advertising Bureau], online ad spending in the United States will reach $[pick a random number between 5 and 7 billion here] this year. Spending by 2005 is expected to reach $[pick a random number between 15 and 20 billion].

[Insert obligatory encouraging quote from Richy Glassberg or Rich LeFurgy here.]

The halcyon days of online advertising are likely over with the industry average click rate declining to [pick a random number between 0.3 and 0.1] percent. (Don’t feel compelled to mention the irrelevance of click-through rates here. No one wants to hear about it.) Large dot-com advertisers, such as [Pets.com, Furniture.com, Toysmart.com, Garden.com], have filed for bankruptcy, taking vast online media budgets with them to the grave.

[Insert obligatory encouraging quote from Jim Nail, Evan Neufeld, or Jack Myers here.]

Traditional advertisers have been slow to pick up where dot-com advertisers left off. This is likely due to [the decline in click-through rates, online advertising’s inability to brand, advertisers’ inability to grasp the technology — pick one, or better yet, use all three].

There, that wasn’t so hard now, was it? Now go and post this with your byline to your favorite news wires, newsgroups, or discussion lists, or anywhere else you can think of. Congratulations! You’re well on your way to being an insightful, trend-predicting business journalist.

Seriously, though… I’m worried. Not about online advertising effectiveness (if you’ve been reading ClickZ faithfully, you know that online advertising works), but about all of the negative reinforcement that will no doubt affect marketing directors and brand managers as they put together their 2001 budgets. It’s hard to argue with a stack of negative press articles five feet high, even if they’re all misguided attempts to explain the same problem. With enough negative reinforcement, the death of online advertising could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If truth be told, online advertising is as effective as it’s always been. The two main issues underlying all of this “online advertising slowdown” poppycock are the following:

  1. In the last few years, a bunch of overvalued dot-coms spent ad dollars recklessly — not just online, but everywhere. Many traditional advertisers are understandably hesitant to make the same mistake.

  2. The majority of online advertisers measure only a small sliver of their online advertising’s effectiveness. This is the biggest problem facing the industry, and we need to fix it — quickly. Read some of my past columns for solutions to this problem.

Add to these the “me too” attitude of industry journalists who don’t adequately cover the two issues above, and we’ve got a real problem on our hands. This problem can be solved only through an equally impressive barrage of online advertising success stories. I hate to keep mentioning week after week that widespread dissemination of case studies is the best solution, but this issue has never been as important to our industry as it is right now.

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