Despite the recession, adspend in digital media in Ireland is rising. Suzanne McElligott, chief executive of IAB Ireland, talks to Grainne Rothery about the move online.
While traditional media in Ireland continues to be hit hard by the recession, the news for online is a lot more positive with the latest study from IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) Ireland and PwC, released in the middle of November, indicating that adspend in digital media reached €53.9m in the first half of the year, representing a 12pc increase over the same period in 2009.
Participants in the survey included 29 publishers, many of them representing multiple websites, as well as sales houses and advertising networks.
The results reflect PwC’s Entertainment & Media Outlook, published in October, which said online advertising in Ireland is showing growth of 12.2pc this year. By comparison, PwC is expecting the total ad market in Ireland to fall by 5.1pc in 2010. The firm is forecasting TV ad expenditure to drop by 5.9pc and radio to be down by 11.1pc, while outdoor (8.9pc), consumer magazine (4.1pc) and newspaper (5.4pc) adspend will also decline.
Suzanne McElligott, chief executive of IAB Ireland, describes the latest figures for online as very strong in challenging economic times for the market.
“What it means is online is of course the fastest-growing medium and I think there are a number of reasons for that,” she says. “Firstly, our audience is growing. Online usage has grown from 66pc to 77pc [between Q2 2009 and Q2 2010 – ComReg]. Time spent online is also growing. And we would also see as a key driver of online ads the growth in broadband penetration.
“It isn’t surprising that the channel is growing. We have a way to catch up in terms of many of the more developed European markets. Therefore, our growth levels will be higher than a lot of other markets.
“The other key fundamental in terms of our growth at the moment is that in challenging economic times, certainly the return in investment in online advertising is a very important bonus for brands.”
Given that IAB Ireland’s membership includes the major publishers, ad agencies and ad network, McElligott says the level of growth was not unexpected.
“We all knew that things were much more buoyant this year than last year,” she says. “When we published our first report in July, we were able to look at our share of the total media market, which came out at 10pc. And we predicted that our growth would be much more dramatic going forward, because once online gets a 10pc share it has been seen to grow dramatically from that point on. It’s almost like a tipping point. Ten percent is a key figure for growth for the online channel.”
The fact that the 10pc mark seems to create exponential growth is driven by a number of factors, she explains. “I think there’s a sense of brands seeing other brands active and being inspired by that. I also think there’s a coming of age of the channel, given that the audience has grown. Marketers are aware of that. There was a time when one went online for a certain number of hours a day – now it’s through the day and people consume TV online and are more involved in social media activity, and so on.
“There’s a sense now that it has be part of one’s advertising and marketing activity. It’s not just an option now. It has to be if you want to target the growing audience that is online, which is very representative of the Irish market.
“And we’d know from publishers and agencies that increasingly new advertisers are coming online, and you can see that in terms of internet usage as well. New advertisers are coming to the medium and those that have already been active online are increasing their spend. So we weren’t surprised, we were anticipating good growth.
“These are challenging times for other media, some are probably performing better than others,” she continues. “But we can certainly say that online’s performance makes us stand out in terms of double-digit growth. No other channel will experience double-digit growth this year. And it’s probably fair to say that a number of them will probably decline.”
The missing link
There are still barriers to brands moving online, she admits.
“Knowledge is the missing link and I think there’s a real need for an organisation like IAB Ireland. It’s for this reason that an IAB is set up in each country. It’s to consolidate the whole industry. Our job is to make it easier to spend money online and to spend money with confidence and with knowledge.
“Online is an incredible channel with opportunities and a host of measurements in terms of what you want to achieve. But it’s also challenging in terms of new developments, new technology and ensuring that you’re using the right metrics for your particular campaign and the right creative. There is a real job to be done by one organisation objectively on behalf of the industry to help that. That’s been the gap in the market, I believe.
“There’s a real willingness for more advertisers to come online, but there’s also a caution because it’s something new and something different. So there’s a real need for that information and research to be provided in an authoritative way. And we would anticipate that that would further contribute to growth and positive experiences online.”
According to McElligott, it’s important for the industry to work together to share knowledge and best practice.
“There are too many new learnings and too many opportunities online, it’s too complicated in many ways for the separate interests to do it on their own.”
She believes that the involvement of the IAB in the UK market for the last nine years has been instrumental in making that market one of the most mature in the world.
“It is a very unifying and very well supported organisation,” she says. “Therefore, they have achieved those changes and that mindset change and that quality of information. Their advertisers are just very au fait with online and know exactly how it will work for their particular brand’s needs and that needs to be done in our market.”
That the industry has not been consolidated in this market up until this year has been a obstacle in the growth of online advertising here, she maintains.
“There wasn’t a means whereby publishers, agencies, ad networks, sales houses and other service providers to the industry, could come together and say, these are our priorities, we need research in this area, we need to introduce best practice in these areas, we need to set up a forum. There wasn’t any way that could happen.
“And also, perhaps the audience has taken a while to grow in our market for other reasons, such as broadband. These are all being solved now. It’s the right time for the channel to come together now and we have all the key members of the industry and the opportunity for them to work together to facilitate advertisers, understand our channel more and increase their spend.”
This article originally appeared in Marketing Age, Volume 4, Issue 4, 2010