@D:Tech Show Loses Some Of Its Swagger

NEW YORK — If an entire industry can be characterized as begging, Internet advertising fits the bill.

The titles of some presentations alone at the @d:tech New York online advertising conference Nov. 18-20 suggest an industry that is still digging out of the biggest hype hole in media history: “Why the Internet Should be on Your CEO's Agenda,” and “Convincing Senior Management that Online Marketing Works,” for example.

Also, the theme on the cover of the event guide for this week's show indicates a big shift in thinking from the hubris of two years ago: “Integrated Marketing … The Power is in the Mix.”

“I'm seeing a return to the idea that we are a complementary medium,” said Tim Sanders, chief solutions officer at Yahoo, during his second-day morning keynote presentation titled “Brand 360: It's all About Net.”

Two years ago, someone in Sanders' role at an Internet-related trade show might have talked about the Internet creating “disintermediation,” or possibly replacing traditional forms of selling. However, Sanders discussed such integrated tactics as sending e-mail advertising during the workday notifying people that a catalog will be in their mailboxes when they get home so they're less likely to throw it out.

He also cited the so-called cross-media optimization study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Marketing Evolution and Dynamic Logic, which reportedly showed that various measures of brand advertising are more efficiently boosted when online advertising is added to the media mix.

“The Internet is perhaps the glue that holds everything together,” Sanders said.

However, his characterization that Internet ad vendors are “returning” to the idea that their offerings are complementary may have been generous, industry observers note.

It's key that these vendors are even using phrases like “back in the mix,” said Annette Tonti, chief marketing officer of Bluestreak, Newport, RI. “Back in the hype days, they thought they were the only thing.”

Bluestreak, which debuted as a rich media company in 1999 and has evolved into a marketing services and technology provider, has been a regular exhibitor at Ad:tech trade shows.

“I think [the changed tone of Ad:tech] is a phenomenon not so much of advertising, but of the whole Internet scene,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said, “we've got a society where everyone is looking for the half-hour answer. There is no half-hour answer here. Patience will be very important for the companies that want to last.”

The solution to cleaning online advertising's tarnished image lies in clear, steady results over a period of years, she said.

Along those lines, what many construed as positive at this week's @d:tech was the strongest showing ever of vendors selling pay-for-performance search engine marketing services. Exhibitors included mainstay Overture Services Inc. along with first-time @d:tech exhibitors such as search engines FindWhat.com and Ah-ha.com, and service providers BidRank and Go Toast.

Overture, for example, which pioneered paid search as GoTo.com, lets marketers bid on search keywords and phrases. It syndicates its results to other search engines. When Web searchers use those words at MSN, Lycos, Yahoo and others, Overture returns a segment of the search engine's results in order from the highest bidder down.

Google is another top provider of paid listings. Its results are syndicated on AskJeeves, EarthLink and AOL, among others.

The reason for the strong showing of paid search at @d:tech this week is that, by all accounts, it is emerging as a verifiably effective customer acquisition tool online.

“Paid search has been able to bring some credibility and tangible returns to the Internet ad market,” said @d:tech exhibitor Ross Kramer, president of Lititz, PA-based e-mail campaign management services provider Listrak. As a result, he said, companies are seeing the value of customers acquired online and the importance of capturing their e-mail addresses to build their house files, which, in turn, helps his business.

“It's not about impressions anymore,” he said. “It's about capturing e-mail addresses and retention.”

What's more, said Kevin Lee, CEO of Did-it.com, a New York search marketing agency, the same metrics that helped drive the banner ad market into the ground have bolstered search engine marketing.

“Search is particularly strong when you look at post-click behavior metrics,” he said. “It catches people when they're halfway down the sales cycle already.” Translation: pay-for-performance search engine marketing is driving leads that convert.

However, search engine marketing vendors also have some educating to do, said Karen Yagnesak, director of marketing at FindWhat.com, Fort Myers, FL.

“It's like people have taken a step back to re-look at it [the Internet],” she said. “We've overcomplicated the Internet. Also, the lack of standards is still an issue.”

Even for those who understand paid search, there is apparently a learning curve.

“We've been educating [@d:tech attendees] on the concept that there are alternatives out there [to Overture and Google],” said Jay Bean, chief operating officer, Ah-ha.com.

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