Editorial: So Let’s Brand

Count me among the hard-core skeptics concerning online advertising’s ability to brand who were swayed by the three studies put forth last week by DoubleClick, MSN and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The studies aimed to prove that online ads are effective brand-building vehicles beyond simply creating awareness.

Certainly there are plenty of reasons to question the results. All three organizations have a vested interest in “proving” that online advertising can do more than drive response and build awareness.

What’s more, the studies seemed to have failed to take into account that the new, larger ads have the novelty factor working for them. Soon, consumers will pay less and less attention to them. Also, respondents to these studies were apparently surveyed for the most part immediately after viewing the Web pages with the test ads on them. Does Web advertising have a lasting impact? You’ll never know from these studies.

But — permission mantra aside for a minute — sales by definition are intrusive. If nothing else, the new ads are just that and apparently will become more so soon. Second, larger ads with sound, graphics and interactivity clearly can tell the advertiser’s story better than the lowly banner — no genius arguments here.

Don’t forget, the banner was introduced when advertising online wasn’t cool. It had to be nonintrusive. Fortunately, those days are over. And spare us the finger-wagging, consumer-annoyance arguments. If users get annoyed enough, their actions will hit marketers where it counts quickly enough.

So now that we’re in a buyer’s market and the creative folks have more room to work, brand building online begins to look enticing. Thing is, as Forrester Research analyst Jim Nail pointed out, sellers of online advertising still have their work cut out for them. For one thing, with the Internet’s inherent measurability, it doesn’t seem likely that ad sellers will be able to create the mutually accepted illusion online that has worked for television ad sellers and buyers for so long. This is especially true when one considers that marketers are starting to demand more accountability from TV as well.

But branding works. Even direct marketers know this is so by the simple fact that it’s far easier to sell a well-known and liked brand than an unknown or suspect one.

Studies such as the three released last week are making it harder to argue that the Internet has no branding ability beyond user experience on the merchant’s site.

The question is how to get marketing focused on the right things.

Developments such as CBS MarketWatch announcing earlier this month that it would no longer supply advertisers with click-through reporting unless requested, and Commission Junction’s abandonment of its click-through programs, are steps in that direction. Click throughs have always been akin to measuring how many envelopes were opened. It’s good to see the market vocally moving away from them. Here’s to hoping more marketers embrace online advertising for branding, and that click throughs as a sole measurement of online campaigning finally die the death they deserve.

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