Web Advertising DOES Work

Got a minute for a little story?

I was travelling all last week. (To Detroit and Louisville. Two nice cities but — trust me on this — only one nice airport.)

In order to get from my hotel to the two meeting places in Detroit, I needed maps. So I headed over to one of the online map databases — this time it was Mapquest. I entered starting and ending points for the two meeting places I had, printed the routes I generated, and put them in the appropriate client folders.

I did this quickly (but carefully) since, like most of you, I’m busy. And like most of you, I paid no attention to that 468×60 hunk of pixels at the top of the page. In fact, just to get to the route information, I had to make the banner ad disappear — by scrolling.

On the plane to Detroit, I went to work. I pulled out my client folders, opened up my laptop and began to read, make notes, send email, and so on. I opened up the first folder and reviewed the material I brought with me. These included my talking points document, my proposed task schedule and other papers, including the directions from the hotel to the client’s office.

A little while later, I put that folder away and pulled out the next folder. Printed copies of the client’s home page, a copy of the agenda the client sent me and other papers, including the directions from the hotel to the client’s office.

Arrived at the hotel. Got my ducks in order checked out the directions on the maps, made sure I had the right papers in the right folder, and so on. Next morning pack things up and off I go. Pull out the folder, open it up and place it on the passenger seat of the rental car directions on top. Turn here, bear to the left, go there, follow these signs and sure enough I make it to the right place at the right time.

The next day: Same routine, different destination.

Okay so on this second day I’m sitting around with the client and going through my papers folder open and he reaches over and picks up the map I printed and looks at it.

And those dim 40 watts that are my incandescent brain flickered and sputtered a little.

I DO Have A Point

Between the time that I printed the maps out at my office and the time that I reached that second client’s office, I had looked at one or the other of those maps multiple times. And each time, I looked at the map for 15 or 20 seconds at a minimum, or for as long as a minute. The drive time to both clients was about 15 minutes, during which that map sat open and exposed on my front seat. And what do you think was the most prominent, most visible part of both maps?

Yeah, you got it. That 468×60 hunk of pixels at the top of the page that I had ignored completely when I was online.

I was exposed to that advertisement for as much as 20 minutes on each page in the printed form (it was, by the way, for miningco.com).

Am I The Last Guy On The Bus To Get It?

Now, it was suddenly so obvious to me that this was quality ad exposure. I figured perhaps I’ve been missing the point all along. So before I let myself think I had caught on to anything, I did a little research. I went to three online magazines that a) I personally recognize as being top quality, b) accept advertising and c) provide “Printer Friendly” versions of their articles. It doesn’t really matter which ones — suffice it to say they were the big boys. I figured if this “discovery” is really just elementary web advertising then all three should be presenting advertising through their printer friendly pages.

But they don’t.

  1. One of them opened its printer friendly page with an additional, small popup window that showed the page sponsor, but that didn’t appear on the printed page.
  2. The other two had no promotion associated with its printer-friendly page whatsoever.

What that suggests to me is that maybe just maybe I’ve stumbled onto something here.

So I offer a couple of suggestions to advertisers, and to advertising venues:


  1. Earmark media buy dollars — as best you can — for those online venues that encourage printing or that are likely to be printed out (like the map pages) — and have your media buyers add that criteria to their media evaluation lists.
  2. Make sure that your ads carry visual impact not just in 16-bit color but in grayscale as well.

Ad Venues

  1. If you carry printer-friendly pages make sure that you put your advertiser’s messages there as well. I’m a marketing strategist, not a media buy expert, so don’t let me set your rate cards, but it sure seems to me that with a little primary research, a value proposition for premium pricing could be made.
  2. Make locating those printer-friendly pages easier. Of the three I looked at, only one had the link to that page visible without a scroll — in fact the others made finding that link far too difficult.

The Moral Of The Story

Advertising — by nature — must have three core elements to make it work:

  1. It must have good placement — if it doesn’t appear at the right time and place it won’t be noticed.
  2. It must have high impact — if it doesn’t make an immediate and powerful statement it won’t grab the viewer’s attention.

It must be repetitive — if it doesn’t appear often, its message won’t be retained.

Web advertising can provide these elements. Web advertising does work. Once you take it offline.

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