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CondeNet Yanks TV off Phys.com’s Media Plan

CondeNet, the Internet division of magazine publisher Advance Publications, will not use TV for its Phys.com health site after a disappointing run last year brought no noticeable increase in consumer traffic.

While visitor traffic spiked each time Phys was mentioned editorially on TV, advertising did not seem to convince women aged 18 through 34 to sample the health-oriented site. TV accounted for a third of CondeNet’s $3.5 million ad spending on the site.

“Who knows why, but for that particular product, actual coverage made a huge difference and the TV campaign itself did not,” said Sarah Chubb, director at New York-based CondeNet.

The effort, which ran from August through December of last year supported by print and online ads, featured 15-second and 30-second spots on cable networks such as such as E!, Health and Style, VH1, Lifetime and USA Networks.

Tracking data shows site traffic for the period was flat. Phys.com had 3.6 million page views in August with a slight spike to 4.1 million in November before settling at 3.5 million in December.

Chubb suspects the TV ads might have failed due to poor creative execution that failed to bond with the target viewer or a faulty media buy.

Robaire and Hogshead, Venice, CA, handled advertising, and CIA/VSM, an independent media specialist that is No. 2 worldwide, bought media.

Chubb said another possibility could have been the large sums of money spent on TV last quarter by online companies in search of instant credibility and branding. The spots could have been mistaken for its rivals since they all had the same touchy, feely gloss.

“We’re trying to figure out how much the dot-com clutter affect ed the viability of the ad campaign between October and December,” she said.

Phys.com has been a problem child for CondeNet, which has Epicurious.com, Swoon.com, Concierge.com and Vogue.com in its online portfolio. An online fashion network including Vogue.com and Glamour.com is the next project planned for spring.

Around since 1997, Phys was repositioned in January from its earlier women’s health and wellness stance to include fitness, weight loss and nutrition “because that’s where all the traffic goes,” Chubb said.

“One of the things you learn online from consumers is what they really want,” the CondeNet executive added. “Probably there’s too much health content online right now.”

The competition includes iVillage.com, Oxygen, and women.com in the women-oriented space, plus more broadly focused sites like crunch.com or eFit.com. Phys also has to contend with Healtheon/WebMD, drkoop.com, and Medscape. These sites offer more comprehensive health information and e-commerce.

Phys.com averages about 600,000 unique visitors a month, a third the size of iVillage. Supported by advertising, the site’s 1999 revenue was up 140 percent, though Chubb refused to disclose numbers.

The publisher will this year continue to place Phys.com ads in Conde Nast titles like Vanity Fair, Glamour, Self, Allure, Vogue and Mademoiselle – all at special family ad rates. Online ads will also run on female-focused sites.

On the editorial side, stronger bonds between online and print CondeNast properties is key to satisfying the needs of the Phys audience. Phys will pluck content from titles like Self and Women’s Health and Fitness.

But Phys.com’ TV debacle has made CondeNet executives sit up and think. TV right now is quite different from what it was a couple of years ago, Chubb said. It is more expensive and more cluttered, which heightens the need for sharper messaging with the target audience.

“I guess cynical is a strong word, but I think people tune out of TV advertising when there’s too much of it that looks all the same,” Chubb said.

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