Thursday, November 9, 2006

Brand advertising on the web, or just direct response?

First published in Marketing in 2006, this piece argued for a planning currency - in later articles I pooh-poohed the idea.  Contradiction?  Not really.  The web needed a planning currency to remove any lingering doubts amongst the laggards, giving them familiar tools.  The danger is in the bar being lowered, with poor, old media metrics being seen as the governor for the new.  We weren't happy with TV's currency, so why are we so enthusiatically applying it to the web?

A perplexing feature of the internet advertising business for the last ten years has been the debate about whether it’s a “brand medium” or just a “direct response medium”.

But a medium is itself neither one thing nor the other – it is a medium, a neutral thing.  It is what we do with it that counts.  TV fought this prejudice for a long time – proving that it could be used as a direct response medium when the market viewed it as ‘for brand’ – eventually demonstrating that it could drive effective conversions, and the web seemingly faces this battle in reverse.

Of course, online media first demonstrated its effectiveness in the direct arena – its accountability made an easy business case for investment, although it turned out to be significantly more complex to execute successfully than at first expected.  Brand advertisers though have proved to be a tougher nut to crack.
So it’s encouraging this week to see the results of a European Interactive Advertising Association ( survey amongst advertisers that shows that increasing numbers of them are turning to the web to deliver brand advertising.

The survey took in the views of 172 advertisers across Europe’s principal markets – big advertisers in traditional media – looking at what drives their investment in online media, where the budgets come from and which sectors are leading.

Across the board, 39% of online budgets were claimed to support brand rather than direct marketing objectives, with sectors like FMCG and automotive most focused on brand. 

Amongst heavy (over 6% of budgets) online spenders, the biggest media loser was newspapers, with 39% claiming to be cutting spend there to fund online compared to 28% of lighter spenders.

Most strikingly, 74% of respondents disagreed with the statement that “brand advertising on the internet is a waste of money”.

All of this stacks up as pretty encouraging news if you’re in the online publishing business.  Audiences are growing, budgets are growing, and online seems finally to be cracking the brand advertising market.
So you’d expect publishers to be putting serious investment behind the research that will make their case robust to these long-cherished advertisers who are just now showing an interest.

But somehow, this is struggling to get off the blocks.  An establishment survey is being conducted using NRS as a base, but with still no agreement as to where this should lead.

The need for a planning currency for online media has never been so strong.  A standardised means of looking at a website’s audience, it would give a shorthand point of comparison between websites, and an idea of how they stack up against other media.

From a publisher’s perspective, such a currency could unlock budgets from the numerous advertisers who are currently put off by what they see as a lack of comparability and accountability, boosting display advertising and paying for the research many times over.

So if it’s such a no-brainer, why isn’t it in the home straight by now?  Regrettably, not everyone shares this view.  At the top of the industry, some of the big media brands take the view that they’re winning anyway – so why should they help the industry?  They are filling the knowledge gap by funding their own research, and as sector leaders they reckon anything else benefits their competition more than it does them.

You might ask how such successful publishers can be so timorous.  As brand leaders, they benefit most from an expansion of the sector – and at best marginally from increases in share.  Focusing on share is what people in stagnant or declining markets do – what happened to gross revenue? 

The market’s ready now to move up another notch.  Advertisers are signalling their intent, and broadband is giving them the environment.  It’s time for the media community to set aside narrow interests, get its act together, and fund a planning currency to act as the foundation for future growth.

No comments:

Post a Comment