Why Wait for Broadband?

Who needs broadband?

Many in the industry have been saying for years the real money will start flowing into online advertising once there is significant broadband penetration among Internet users.

My interpretation of this widely held idea is many think the money will come when the big (mostly brand-oriented) advertisers that spend millions upon millions offline (mostly on TV) finally trust they can accomplish their objectives online. I’ve always been skeptical about that notion because I’m a believer in the power of rich media. I believe the various rich media formats available to us today do an excellent job of compensating for most bandwidth issues.

I know rich media works, whether it’s direct response metrics or the more subjective brand-oriented measures. I’ve seen online beat the pants off offline performance, as I’m sure many of you have, as well. I am certain online creative can make the emotional connection that is absolutely critical for shifting opinions. I’m not talking about some beta of next year’s technology, nor am I referring to some experimental marketing vehicle. I’ve seen it happen with tools and formats available everywhere online, whether we were delivering the ad over dial-up or broadband. So, like I said before: Who needs broadband?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve looked over the shoulders of our creative team members as they’ve struggled mightily to get the right combination of graphic quality and kilobyte weight. I’ve even tried it a few times myself. I know their frustration, even when dealing with heavy formats such as a 300k SUPERSTITIAL. I suspect this process is not unlike what a TV production team goes through in getting that message down to 30 seconds. I suspect it won’t go away even when 300k is the norm rather than the exception.

I long for the days when we’ll have more than 15k for the majority of our online ads, and I have little doubt increased bandwidth will bring with it an improvement in the overall quality and flexibility of online creative.

I also realize the broadband audience is a very attractive audience — tending to spend more time online, be more likely to shop online, and so on. Some would argue this is the reason behind the industry’s anticipation of broadband growth. But as broadband becomes mainstream, will those demographic and psychographic attributes stay the same? Not likely.

After numerous case studies indicating online can accomplish brand objectives — especially when used in combination with offline components — why do we still feel like we have to wait for broadband to come before we see advertisers lining up to allocate larger portions of their budgets to online? That’s what frustrates me.

Is it fear of the unknown? Is there safety in the status quo? Job security in loading ad dollars in offline media that are tricky at best to measure? Does the accountability of online — even for brand objectives — scare people away? Do marketers have issues with the methodologies of these various case studies touting online success? Does TV win simply because it’s easier for senior management to find the ad in its “live” environment, making it somehow more tangible? Other reasons?

Bottom line is I don’t know why, but I do know this:

  • Data from a cross section of Avenue A clients indicates 72 percent of impressions are served over a broadband connection. So penetration may be stuck at 28 percent as far as number of users, but those users are consuming a lot more media than their narrowband counterparts.

  • Recent studies from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, especially the ongoing Cross Media Optimization Study (XMOS), indicate online advertising works to improve brand metrics. There was a fair amount of coverage around this latest release, so many of you may have already seen it, but the chart toward the end says it all. The transitional online ad outperformed the TV ad in lift for the brand image attribute “exciting.” The lift was more than three times higher! And it held pace with TV on two of the other three attributes. Online works, and it works hard.

Taken together, that’s enough reason for me. We’re certainly starting to see more traditionally offline-focused advertisers paying more attention to online, but I think we’re all ready for it to explode. And I say there’s no reason at all to wait for broadband to become mainstream.

Bring it on. Now.

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