In Defense of Online Advertising

Since its inception, online advertising has suffered from both blind faith and relentless scrutiny.

During the glory days of the new economy, marketers flocked to the new medium. It was clear that the Internet would make anyone a millionaire, no matter how it was used. In the past year, as the phrase dot-com transformed from a holy blessing to foul language, confidence in online advertising has fallen.

We must re-examine the medium, asking ourselves whether it is a viable option for business-to-business marketers and, if it is, how to use it best to leverage a client’s position in the marketplace.

Online advertising has proved an effective marketing tool, especially to achieve brand recall. According to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, New York, online advertisements generate 27 percent brand recall, upstaging magazines at 26 percent, newspapers at 23 percent and television at 17 percent.

Online advertising is also cost efficient, averaging $3.50 cost per thousand impressions. Magazines average a $6 CPM, television averages a $16 CPM and newspapers average a $19 CPM.

One thing we have learned from the recent economic downturn is that using an innovative medium is not enough. Effective marketing communications that drive sales require that the right medium delivers the right message.

Online advertisers must carefully consider several things to make their advertising successful. First and foremost, the advertisement must be fast-loading. Viewers are impatient. A smaller, quicker-loading advertisement will generate more click-throughs than a larger, more elaborate ad that takes a long time to load.

When designing the layout of the advertisement, simplicity is the key. The message must be conveyed in a small space. Too much clutter will distract and confuse the viewer, causing him to quickly lose interest. One of the most prominent elements in the ad should be the company logo, which is effective in generating brand recall. If the advertisement uses fast-loading animation, horizontal animation is more appealing than vertical.

The content must maintain the same type of simplicity as the graphic design. The message must be strong enough to be conveyed in a few attention-grabbing words. As in traditional advertising mediums, humor can be very effective in grabbing viewers’ attention. Given the space restrictions, the humor must be conveyed in very tight copy.

The call-to-action element of the ad is necessary to drive viewers to the company Web site. Though marketers have tried several phrases, nothing outshines the simple “click here.”

Marketers should also be careful to avoid the sex appeal approach in online advertising. Using a sexual reference or graphic usually causes viewers to think that the advertisement is promoting an adult site.

Although online advertising is very successful in generating brand recall, other mediums are more effective at generating brand awareness. Online advertising is only 14 percent effective, compared with magazines’ 29 percent and television’s 36 percent. Therefore, BTB companies are best served by implementing online ads as an element of an integrated marketing campaign to either generate brand recall or reinforce other brand awareness efforts. An integrated campaign requires every marketing communications element — including the advertisements, press releases, sales tools and the Web site — to look similar and convey the same strong message. Online advertisements must remain consistent with the other elements and be simple enough to work in the online format.

Focus groups are valuable for marketers to determine whether marketing communications activities are resonating with key audiences, especially online advertisements. The focus groups can gauge how target audiences respond to ad size, colors, design and tag lines, as well as the overall message of the campaign.

One of the greatest advantages of online advertising is its measurability. Businesses are demanding more accountability from their agencies. When times are tough, marketing can quickly find itself in line for the guillotine. Careful tracking of online advertisements allows marketers to optimize ad dollars and make a strong case for marketing. Comparing click-throughs and sales conversions for each advertisement on each site provides valuable insight to the best use of advertising dollars. And with less production time required and lead times averaging less than 48 hours, online advertisements can quickly be altered according to measurement findings.

However, marketers must not become paralyzed by the numbers. Though the percentage is not as high as other media, online advertising does generate brand awareness, which is not measurable. Also, some people still prefer to pick up the phone instead of entering information on a Web site, even if an online ad sparked their interest.

The current economy presents many challenges to BTB businesses and their marketing agencies. To make the most of the opportunity provided by online advertising, the ads must be crafted to effectively deliver the right messages to the right audiences.

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