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Internet Creates Splintered Audience

The niche orientation of cable TV programming is smoothing the transition or convergence of that medium with cyberspace. Just as cable tries to offer entertainment programming meant to satisfy nearly every conceivable curiosity, hobby or interest, the Internet offers Web sites filled with specific information. This individualized attention has appeal not just to consumers, but also to advertisers.

“Unlike TV, the Web is not as much breadth in programming as it is depth in detail,” said Sean Finnegan, a partner and media director at JWT Digital Communications, New York. “The types of mined-down content that lends itself to the Web platform are sports, stats, recipes, court transcripts, personal gaming, empirical data on historical events and breaking news feeds that cater to [the individual’s] schedule.”

“Anytime a viewer is engaged with a program, the advertiser benefits from that focus and personal attention,” he said.

“What makes all this exciting is that we’re not going to be limited to desktop computers for linkage to the Internet and all its wonderful interactive opportunities,” said J.G. Sandom, president, Ogilvy Interactive, New York. “All of the hand-held mobile, personal devices, like the PDAs, are rooted in similar technology, Internet Protocol, which is the one completely global telecommunications standard.”

“What’s compelling is this technology that can send the same signals to any interactive device, whether it’s broadband, like cable TV, or hand-held technology,” Sandom said. “Convergence simply brings together the best aspects of broadcast and digital technology. It’s all about parsing out content and funneling it through interactive devices, whether a cable-modem, a PDA or interactive TV.”

What the Internet and interactivity brings to direct response advertisers is the increasingly precise ability to identify target audiences and customize personal messages to those particular consumers.

Even for marketers, such as Ford Motor Co., which have not yet reached the point of actually selling their products over the Internet, a priority is to develop “sticky” Web sites that have the ability to keep users on site for long periods of time and keep them coming back regularly.

In April, Ford launched the latest edition of its iCollection online store, filled with licensed merchandise, from clothing to collectibles.

“The overriding goal is to ensure we’re building online relationships, and that means a lot of different things, because the Ford Motor Company itself means a lot of different things to different consumers,” said Tom Cornellier, Internet Retail Strategy Manager, Ford Motor Company, Detroit. “For some, there’s information about collecting. For others, it’s a chance to buy licensed merchandise and apparel. For others, there’s a chance to configure a car and become directly connected to a dealer for a quote.”

The company plans to launch interactive Web sites for local Ford dealers this year. “This is important because the Internet is a user-driven, interactive medium,” says Cornellier. “The customer wants to do business electronically. So we have to shift the way we view our relationship with our customers, understanding that choice today is a mouse-click away. We have to do this in a meaningful and engaging way so that they come back to Ford again and again.”

From the customer’s standpoint, there is a tremendous amount of information that can be gathered from Internet sites like Ford’s. For its part, Ford is also gathering information about the visitors to its site, which in turn can be turned back into more useful Web site attractions.

There are many elements that can be borrowed from cable TV and direct-response advertising and incorporated into Web sites, said Ogilvy’s Sandom. “The idea is to make this entire Web experience an interactive and engaging one, because each step of the interaction with a Web site can impact the brand’s image.”

All of the elements of direct response can be put to greater use on a Web site, since the site itself can pose leading questions to visitors, that can be used immediately to customize the experience, Sandom said.

“One of the advantages of this converged world, with faster speed, video, audio and broadband ability, is there can be more utility value embedded in the advertising itself,” Sandon said. “The more complex a product is, and the more expensive it is, the more marketers should be driving customers to Web sites, and using interactive means to keep them there.”

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