Finding the Winning Ad Program

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Wherever prospect audiences can be measured, advertisers are trying to reach and persuade them. Advertisers fish where the fish are -- this rule has been and will be a constant for years.


Advertisers subsidize the consumers' cost of media in exchange for the chance to change how they think, feel and behave. Traditionally, advertisers co-opt consumers' time by piggybacking on someone else's entertainment. Consumers and advertisers have seemed to find this arrangement acceptable because mass marketers need mass audiences, and mass audiences want the cost of their content subsidized. This too has been, and will remain, the case for years to come.


Until now, advertisers have been in the driver's seat. Traditional forms of media (television, radio, print, etc.) have allowed advertisers to intrude (within reason) on consumers with commercial messages and sales pitches at regularly scheduled intervals.


The phrase, "And now a word from our sponsor," has taken on a life of its own. The use of focus groups and segmentation data has helped advertisers shape messages to reach specific demographics of consumers. The most significant trend is the move toward those advertisers demanding results, and the Internet is the perfect medium for this accountability.


Why are things changing? The advent of the Internet has turned the science of advertising on its head. Advertisers have learned that once control of the medium falls into the hands of the consumer, the time-honored concept of tolerable intrusion ends. So, too, with it goes a large measure of utility in targeting.


Similar to the way the remote control reduced the amount of advertising messages seen by television viewers, the computer mouse has given consumers control over the Web sites they visit and use. This is not to say the remote control and mouse are necessarily bad for advertisers, but they portend a greater burden on advertisers to entertain and engage consumers. With millions of Web sites to explore and navigate, it has become harder for advertisers to find consumers online and even more difficult to predict and motivate their online behavior.


For every new opportunity the Internet has created, it has created that many new challenges as well. Advertisers must find an alternative to using intrusion in order to engage consumers. By making some of the advertising messages entertaining, online marketers can better ensure their messages are being digested and more effectively motivate consumer action. As a result, advertisers no longer need to pay just for exposure (unless they need to increase awareness... then, of course, that works).


Advertisers need specific actions to make their businesses work, and with the Internet they can pay for those actions and can track them as well. Online advertisers must ensure their marketing dollars are being spent not only to target and expose, but also to influence.


This is one key reason advertisers are increasingly moving from pure targeting models toward models that target and deliver results. Advertisers always want results. With Internet technology, a clear audit path can be established between commercial communication and desired results, giving advertisers what they have always wanted. In that context, programs that merely reinforce consumer behavior will give way to programs that change consumer behavior. The art of gaining new users and increasing the purchase behavior of current consumers, versus the exercise of just reinforcing existing behavior, is the difference between companies increasing their market share or just decreasing their margins.


Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, predicts that by 2004, action-based advertising spending will grow to make up 53 percent of all online advertising spending, compared with 15 percent in 1999. This shift suggests marketers will be resolute in their pursuit of performance-based solutions when spending online advertising dollars.


Now, if you can make those actions entertaining and rewarding for the consumer, you have a winning program that will drive business transactions and influence the bottom line.


• Jordan Stanley is president/CEO of FreeRide.com, New York, a Web-based consumer rewards and sponsor loyalty program. Reach him at jordan@freeride.com.
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