Travel Ad Spending Remains Strong, Retail Ads Sluggish

Throw conventional wisdom out the window: online travel advertising continues to be strong even after the Sept. 11 attacks, while retail ad spending appears to have benefited little from the holiday shopping crush — according to new findings from Jupiter Media Metrix’s AdRelevance unit.

The Alley-based researcher found that travel industry spending on online ads has returned to about 1 billion impressions per week, perhaps an indication of an effort to woo customers back after Sept. 11. That 1 billion figure is down slightly from the 1.1 billion recorded in August, but is about 80 percent up from the 547.4 million just after the attacks.

“The industry took a major hit on Sept. 11, as travel companies halted advertising out of respect for the victims, as well as to promote disaster relief efforts,” said Jupiter vice president for media research Charles Buchwalter. “But the sector has showed incredible resiliency as booking services and airlines have turned to the Web to reach out to consumers during the busy holiday season.”

Online booking services or agencies comprised the largest group of recent travel advertisers, accounting for 64 percent of all weekly impressions sold from Nov. 4 to Dec. 2. Of those, Orbitz was the largest single advertiser, buying 44 percent of the sector’s impressions; Travelocity and Hotwire followed with 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Orbitz’ massive spending isn’t surprising — a media blitz surrounding its launch in June fueled a massive rise in the sector’s online ad spending, from 291.9 million impressions in May to 1.1 billion impressions in August.

Yet as travel companies are keeping their online ad spending high, retail advertising appears to have seen only a slight pickup as a result of the holiday season — despite several pundits’ expectations (and scattered reports) of success for the sector this year.

Weekly online ad impressions for the retail sector reached 3.7 billion during the fourth week of November, up only 8 percent from 3.4 billion in the first week of October.

That’s well below the 17 percent growth rate over the same period last year, when weekly impressions increased from 2.4 billion to 2.9 billion.

Still, there’s hope for a last-minute boost: last year, retail ad impressions peaked during the fourth week of December, at 3.7 billion impressions.

“This year’s holiday ramp-up has yet to reach the growth trajectory of last year’s,” Buchwalter said. “Declines in consumer confidence resulting from the economic downturn as well as the Sept. 11 attacks may be responsible for the delayed increase in retail advertising. We’ll be watching closely to see if the sector catches up in the final days of the holiday shopping season.”

Amazon.com leads the pack of online retail advertisers, with 16 percent of the sector’s total ad spending. Barnes & Noble Inc. and Columbia House followed with 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, while eBay bought 9 percent of total retail impressions.

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