@d:tech Spotlight Shines on Rich Media, ROI Again

SAN FRANCISCO — Attendees at the @d:tech Internet advertising conference here this week noted a familiar two-part theme that to some is beginning to wear thin:

* The industry needs to set measurement standards so advertisers can see proof of return on investment.

* Rich media, rich media, rich media.

Seminars on rich media — the ability to add sound, video and transactional capabilities to online advertising — had standing room only. Also, rich media vendors claimed to be drawing a great deal of traffic to their booths.

“We've been overwhelmed,” said Jamie Bertasi, director of sales at Enliven, @Home Network, Redwood City, CA, a company that offers Internet access through the cable infrastructure.

Advertisers are beginning to understand what rich media is, which helps @Home pitch its wares, Bertasi said. “We've got the word out. Now our goal is to take all the advertisers and teach them how to use rich media to move forward.”

However, advertisers attending the conference weren’t solely interested in adding video and sound to their online campaigns.

“The message we're getting is that people want ROI with their ad spending,” said Matt Rothman, an executive with Thinking Media, New York, which creates banners with e-commerce transactional capabilities. “It's not about video. It’s not about music. It’s about ‘How do we make money with this thing?’ I'm seeing more interest in interactivity and measurement.”

Rothman predicted that widespread use of online advertising with sound and video is still a year away. The topic of measurement came up in panels and on the show floor repeatedly.

“I just can't tell you how important solving this measurement problem is,” said Robin Webster, senior vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, presenting the results of a recent survey in which 68 percent of respondents cited no proof of ROI, and 58 percent cited a lack of reliable measurement information as key barriers to online advertising.

But to some, the rich media and measurement discussions so prevalent at @d:tech and other Internet advertising conferences have grown tiresome.

“So much of this stuff has been discussed over and over and over,” said Drew Rayman, president of online ad agency i33 Communications, New York.

Discussions concerning the much-maligned banner’s 0.5 percent average click-through rate have grown particularly tiresome, he said. “So what if it’s a 0.5-percent click-through rate? Make each click a valuable one [by concentrating on conversion rates].”

Also, he said, the conference seemed more about competitors eyeing each other up than vendors prospecting for business.

One exhibitor wishing to remain anonymous partially agreed with Rayman’s assessment. “I've been doing this [show circuit] for a year and it does start to seem like we're just talking to each other [as opposed to prospecting], but we’re a young industry, and naturally we need to work through these issues.”

Meanwhile, other exhibitors reported light, but highly qualified, traffic at the booths.

“There hasn’t been so much traffic [as at other larger shows], but the level of leads has been tremendous,” said Unity Stoakes, director of marketing and public relations at online promotions firm Webstakes, New York.

Stoakes said maybe some of the recurring discussion is sinking in.

“There’s been an improvement in the level of questions,” he said. “People are more savvy about online advertising than they were at previous shows.”

Show organizer eMarketWorld, Richmond, VA, estimated that 7,500 people attended, twice the number of people who attended @d:tech in New York in October. There were 62 exhibitors.

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