by Pamela Parker
Managing Editor of ChannelSeven.com and Internet Advertising Report
While it may seem that online advertising is getting nothing but disrespect these days, at least a few industry experts think it's beginning to become an integral part of the marketing mix.
"There really is a convergence of media that's occurring," said Michael Dolan, chief executive officer of Young and Rubicam, speaking at a panel discussion at the Silicon Alley 2001 conference in New York City. "People are saying that 'hey, this should be a part of the mix.' It all comes together as a very powerful whole."
Ever since the dot-com advertising dollars began drying up last year, there's been an increasing emphasis on trying to attract traditional advertisers -- the type that Young and Rubicam services -- to the medium; and now folks like Dolan are saying that, indeed, the most traditional of companies are beginning to see Internet marketing as an important part of their plans.
What's most interesting, though, is that Dolan says these advertisers aren't just looking for a "one off" effort, but instead want to examine how online advertising, and e-mail marketing, can enhance what they're doing in other media. For each company, the solutions they come up with are different, but they're increasingly looking to agencies that can pitch them an integrated campaign.
It hasn't been the easiest of transitions for advertisers or agencies, many of which are still headed by "older white guys baffled by their computers," said Stuart Elliot, the well-known advertising columnist for the New York Times. Elliot believes that the lack of understanding of the Internet will continue to hinder some traditional agencies. "That's not going to change at a lot of places until those guys all go off to Boca," said Elliot.
"If that's the case at agencies," added Elliot, "don't ask what's happening at the consumer packaged goods companies, where you've got really entrenched marketing methods."
Other obstacles hindering the forward movement of the industry include the current tough economic times, although Elliot, Dolan and DoubleClick CEO Kevin Ryan, who also sat on the panel, agreed that brand managers believe they must continue to advertise even in a downturn. Otherwise, the store brands begin to encroach on their territory. "Savvy marketers are saying 'we're not going to give any ground to Wal-Mart,'" said Dolan.
Still, competing with Wal-Mart, as far as traditional agencies and advertisers are concerned, will require better media. That situation may be beginning to change, the panelists said, with the new, bigger, IAB banner guidelines, which have caused much excitement in the industry. "Part of it is a disappointment with the classic banner," said Dolan, "and the problem with the creative people being frustrated with working with such a small space."
"There's not as much advertising on the Internet as there should be," said DoubleClick's Ryan, "and it's not as intrusive as it should be."
In Your Face
That issue of intrusiveness has been a difficult one, as publishers have been trying to avoid such advertising because it may detract from the user experience. As long as the VC dollars were flowing and there was always another publisher with fewer ads, players were resistant to the idea of being the one with the biggest banners. However, as the cash crunch has become tighter -- and some content players have gone out of business -- the publishers that remain are working harder to make marketers happy.
The challenge for brand-oriented advertising, of course, is to create something compelling, engaging, and relevant. "The trick is to make people want the ads," said Elliot. "People will want the ads if they are useful, informative, or entertaining. From the beginning people felt that banner ads were boring. As an advertising medium, direct mail can be very efficient, but no one walks around talking about how exciting it is."
To make Internet advertising interesting, creative people will have to take advantage of the new space they can command under the new guidelines. "If it's just as boring," said Dolan, "people will lose interest."
As boring as direct marketing may be, though, there is one aspect of it -- measurability -- that the panelists believe has been a boon, as well as a handicap, to the industry.
"It's the single thing to date that has made Internet advertising grow as quickly as it has," said Ryan.
At the same time, it has meant that the Internet has been held to a higher standard than traditional media. But that may be changing. "I think what is coming our way is more and more measurability," said Dolan, citing the ability to measure television viewing through a set-top box. "That's all coming. Our attitude is that it's probably inevitable and it's probably good for us as an industry."
Such technological breakthroughs will, more than ever, make Internet advertising just another color in the palette used by marketers. The idea may seem disappointing, especially for visionaries that predicted the Internet would be a radically different medium, but others think it's actually quite impressive that a totally new form has come to be accepted so quickly.
"Fundamentally," said Ryan, "I think an incredible amount has been accomplished."