Online publishers and marketers are bolstering efforts to prove Internet advertising is an effective brand awareness tool, not only a direct marketing medium.
Major advertisers are getting behind the push, such as Procter & Gamble, Mars Inc. and Kellogg's.
“What has stymied some of the major advertisers like Procter & Gamble is how do you promote certain products online if there isn't any reason to click on it?” said Michael Streefland, director of marketing for Flipside Network, a division of Vivendi Universal, New York.
Since consumers don't go online to buy a bar of soap, for example, advertisers have not used online advertising to increase brand awareness of these products. And most advertisers devote little attention and money — 1 percent of their budget in some cases — to the medium.
Marketers are touting a recent study from the Internet Advertising Bureau, the Advertising Research Federation, MSN, Dynamic Logic and Unilever that suggests online advertising's benefit to brand awareness and purchase intent.
The study, comparing offline and online advertising for Unilever's Dove Nutrium Bar, found that if Dove increased online advertising and spending, the brand would see a boost in unaided brand awareness (up 3 points), brand image (13 points) and purchase intent (3 points).
Also, more major advertisers are backing the medium, saying they are raising brand awareness through creative rich media ad units, interactive games and other avenues.
“A lot of [online] advertisers don't really care about direct response. Most advertisers and agencies realize now that click-through is basically irrelevant,” said Jeffrey Graham, vice president of Dynamic Logic, New York, which measures the branding effectiveness of online ads for 30 of the nation's top 50 advertisers.
“If 2.5 percent of the people are clicking on the ad, what does that tell them?” he said. “If it's a toothpaste ad, why would they want users to click on it [because consumers can't buy toothpaste online].”
In some cases, advertisers are increasing brand awareness by integrating ad messages into partner Web sites. Mars teams with Warner Home Video and Flipside Network to market its candy through interactive games and other content. Since Mars will not sell directly to children online, it creates content such as a mock video store on Warner Home Video's site, which happens to include branding for M&Ms.
“Integration works better for brand [awareness] instead of for direct response,” said Shawn Black, vice president and interactive media director for Grey eMedia, New York. “Consumers are more receptive to something that is part of the site, instead of an ad scheme.”
In its current television campaign, Mars is focusing on the online arena for brand awareness and interaction rather than direct response. The ads urge consumers to vote on their favorite color of M&Ms candy.
“They're not asking for e-mail addresses or anything,” Streefland said. “To them it's more about engagement: They're using the Internet to make it kind of fun.”
M&M Mars also has run several effective brand awareness campaigns on Flipside sites. A recent effort, an interstitial ad on Uproar.com's St. Valentine's Day page, also had a direct response benefit when it urged Uproar game players to sign up for Mars' Bright Ideas newsletter.
“Since Mars can't sell a candy bar online, everything with the newsletter and direct marketing is a bonus to the branding that was done,” Streefland said.
Grey and Beyond Interactive are branding testing with Mars and Warner Brothers whether online advertising is driving people to stores to buy candy and driving consumers to cinemas.
Since Procter & Gamble sells few of its products online, the advertiser is primarily creating brand awareness by interacting with its target customer, Streefland said. This includes rich media ads and interactive games on Flipside sites.
“It's all about aligning the product with the customers,” he said. “Flipside resonates with the Middle America female audience.”
For example, a February rich media Superstitial for P&G's Bounty's Stovetop Splatters Cleaning Challenge, which featured Flash animation and sound and ran in a separate window, resulted in 1.5 million impressions on Flipside.
Meanwhile, the IAB/MSN study showed that online advertising also could be more cost-effective than offline for consumer packaged goods companies.
“There could have been more bang for the buck [for Dove] with more online advertising,” Graham said.
Like television advertising, frequency boosted brand awareness online in the study. Increasing the number of impressions from six to 12 over six weeks could have raised Dove's branding effectiveness 42 percent.