Internet Marketers Hunt for Leads, Possibilities at Ad:tech

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CHICAGO--Most delegates at yesterday's Ad:tech Chicago conference had something in common with parents of newborns -- that crazed-with-excitement look, euphoric with the possibilities ahead.


Held downtown at the humongous Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, the two-day conference is the 26th in a series since the conference launched 10 years ago. Just over 3,000 executives registered to attend this summer's show.


But the Chicago conference is nowhere near the size of this spring's Ad:tech San Francisco, which attracted 6,000 attendees, up 50 percent from 2004. About 270 exhibitors took booths to showcase their proficiency in online marketing, especially search.


Still, Chicago's showing is not bad for a market its size. The conference has 38 sessions planned for the event. Those not interested in case studies, panels and talks can walk a crowded floor of 84 exhibitors, which include AOL, Atlas, BlueLithium, Business.com, Casale Media, Commission Junction, Did-it.com, EmailLabs, ePrize, Google, Hitwise, icrossing, Impaqt, iProspect, Kanoodle, Miva, MSN, Oneupweb, Omniture, RevShare, SEO Inc., Tribal Fusion, ValueClick and Yahoo Search Marketing.


No surprises here. Search again dominates. The theme of the show, like Ad:tech San Francisco and the fall Ad:tech New York, is "The Age of Engagement."


"It's what we deal with when the mass media becomes fractured," said Susan Bratton, CEO of marketing consultancy Cendara and chief mascot of Ad:tech.


Looking at the conference through the eyes of a veteran attendee and exhibitor is a view with no rose tints. Ask Melissa Burgess, director of business development at search engine marketing agency Impaqt, Pittsburgh.


Perhaps it was too early to ask her this question yesterday morning, but what did she think of the quality of traffic to her booth?


"Usually day two's are a lot better because the first wave of people are filtered out on day one," Burgess said. "Usually here, and even at Ad:tech San Francisco, we had lots of lead generators, lots of content aggregators. It's a lot of people in the casinos and the adult industry looking to further their presence online."


Burgess saw no difference between this and the San Francisco conference. But she emphasized the need for more pre-show research to gauge attendees' anticipated needs.


"Analyze who's going to be here," she said. "Make an effort to go to the sessions because that's where the people you want to talk to are going to be."


But she clearly took issue with a bookmark and a like-minded print ad in the Ad:tech from AdDrive.com. Both were not table-talk creative.


To wit: The print ad shows a pair of crumpled jeans and a hint of shirt lying on a shaggy white carpet. The headline says, "Stronger than your sex drive." Accompanying copy reads, "AdDrive. Don't settle for impotent advertising. Increase your drive. AdDrive.com."


"I don't want the industry to go this route," Burgess said. "I look at this [and] it's tacky."


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