Web ads are back

21 Jul 2005

Whisper it, but four times more money is being spent on internet advertising now than at any time during the dotcom boom. That fact, cited by Jonathan Forrest, managing director of Cybercom, during the Irish Internet Association’s online advertising seminar in Dublin last week, was reflected in a capacity attendance and a cautious optimism that the medium is starting to gain traction at last.

Unfortunately, estimates put revenues from the online market at roughly 1pc of the entire Irish advertising spend. However, there was no shortage of speakers prepared to make the case that the internet ought to be firmly established within a company’s marketing mix.

Traditional media has reached a saturation point, beyond which it becomes difficult — and expensive — to reach new audiences but the internet hasn’t reached that point yet, said Simon Ferguson, managing director of Salesonline. He noted that the elusive 16-34 age group is the holy grail of advertisers; now dubbed the iGeneration, this group consumes media in a very different way to others but crucially the internet is central to how it receives information. “Smart media buyers are shifting to the web and putting TV ads online,” he said.

Ferguson argued that the time has come to apply traditional brand metrics to the internet: namely, purchase intent, brand recognition and understanding. If one theme emerged loud and clear from the conference it was that the pay-per-click advertising model no longer applies. “The fixation on clickthroughs is ludicrous; it’s about the activity of the individual having been exposed to the brand over time,” he said.

It’s no coincidence that financial services, telecoms and the car trade are at the forefront in spending money online; customer interaction with these groups often involves some form of application completion, whether for mortgages, telephone services or test drives — an activity that lends itself very well to the web.

Using clicks on a banner ad as a yardstick to measure the success of a campaign has given way to a more sophisticated way of gauging brand awareness. Once a visitor sees an ad on a webpage, a cookie is placed on his or her computer. Instead of assuming that the user will react to the ad immediately, the company instead sees whether at some later stage that same customer visits the website, having been prompted to do so by the original advert. The cookie can tell if customers who visit the site have seen the ad online at some point in the recent past.

Caragh McKenna, account manager with Interactive Return, pointed out that instead of advertisers paying agencies per click, some are now paying per call. This is where a potential customer, prompted by an ad, picks up the phone to contact a company and a quantifiable lead is generated instead of a clickthrough that may ultimately lead to nothing.

Mark Tarbatt, founder of Generator, outlined a case study where the property section on Eircom Net’s homepage links to content from Daft.ie. Every time a new property from the Daft site is listed on www.eircom.net, it is assigned to one of four mortgage provider partners, so that if a potential customer applies for a mortgage through the listing online, it will be with that company.

All of the property listings are divided equally among the four partners and the advertising hook is a clever monthly breakdown of repayments intended to entice customers to consider applying for finance. Tarbatt echoed Ferguson’s theme when he said: “We’re not really interested in how many clicks they get. These aren’t clickthroughs, these are real sales leads; this is the net doing what it does best.” It doesn’t hurt Tarbatt’s case that the total amount of finance applied for in the first two weeks of the project came to a massive €28.1m. “Radio and television can’t do that,” he added.

Shenda Loughnane, managing director of the online ad agency ICAN, alluded to the day’s main theme and then expanded on it with illustrated examples of successful online ads. She urged creative agencies not to be put off by the ad sizes and to “think outside the banner”. Humour or special offers go a long way towards winning over time-pressed website visitors, she said, adding a note of caution against expecting instant results. “Track and measure, constantly refine and build creative from what you have learnt before,” she said.

Loughnane’s remark that success online takes time could be taken as one that applies to the industry as a whole; many in the audience who have been part of this industry for years will be hoping that that time has now come.

Pictured is Simon Ferguson of Salesonline: ‘Smart media buyers are shifting to the web and putting TV ads online’

By Gordon Smith