Tech strategies Do Not Misjudge Online Advertising

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The bandwagon is rolling again: Internet advertising does not work; the banner is dead.


But before you jump onboard, you better look before you leap because, to paraphrase a great author, "rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated."


Advertisers - that are not traditional direct marketers - were the first to line up for a ticket to ride this new medium called the Internet. At that time - could it be only four years ago? - direct marketing was not part of their vocabulary. However, when the Web did not perform for them like traditional advertising placements, they dubbed the Internet a direct advertising medium and headed for higher ground.


None of the Web marketing gurus, circa 1997-98, were happy with the Web being anointed for direct response.


Bad news? Maybe not.


With those who do not trust or understand the medium on the way out, true direct marketers now have more avenues open to them to make better deals, stretch budgets and test new avenues to bring in new leads and sales. Be aware that the general advertising folks are not about to surrender the revenue from the Internet.


The general agency types are back, now having "tested" the Internet, and they have concluded that it was a branding and not a direct marketing medium all along. And by the way, their billing should not be subject to those horrific tracking reports of click throughs, because they just do not count.


Yes, it is true that part of the Internet sales pitch centered on the power of the click through. A remarkable device that allowed interested prospects to go directly from interest to sale. It became a tool unlike any other advertising vehicle ever created. The click through quickly became the ultimate barometer of banner advertising success. That is where the problem started, especially for the general agencies, and you can throw in the new economy agencies as well.


None of the pundits, and certainly none of the newbie Internet associations, ever realized what every direct marketer knows: Return on investment is not like opening a letter (which may be similar to a click). It is the sale. Or, at least the call-to-action should be tested.


Maybe the cost per thousand was too high, or the offer was too cheap.


Remember all the free stuff on the Web that blew budgets? None of these critical variables stops the banner or Web from being a direct medium.


The folks who are now rethinking the Web never were comfortable with working in a measurable medium. They made a bundle in general advertising. Now they can label direct marketing almost like an outgoing administration.


For the rethinkers, this is what is back: the tried-and-true building blocks of advertising success such as image, name recognition and branding. They were shoved aside for what was thought of as a get-rich-quick gold mine. It was a big mistake with little thought behind it.


It is sad to say, but these ad people from both inside and outside the Internet business have come to believe that the banner's 15 minutes of fame have come and gone. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Just as radio folks waited in vain for the passing fancy of television to fade, today's traditional advertisers are waiting for an end of an advertising medium that is simply not in sight.


The truth is that online advertising - even banners - does work. A shift to responsible testing of variables must occur, however. Price, offer, creative and targeted placement must become more than the cheapest buy on a network of sites.


Some of the most successful networks of sites on the Web have actually hurt the direct marketing success of the Web. None of the fundamental concerns of a direct marketing offer is considered when buying through these networks.


Networks, while they have their place in a media buy, are a secondary one.


As knowledge increases, so too will an appreciation of what the Internet as an advertising medium does well. As more advertisers and direct marketers understand and use the concept of these newer creative formats, the dollars will begin to flow back and the Internet will find its place in media budgets.


• Roy Schwedelson is CEO of Worldata Inc. and co-founder of WebConnect, both in Boca Raton, FL. His e-mail address is roy@worldata.com.
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