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Online Advertising Boot Camp: Take No Prisoners

Everybody could use some basic training, right? At eyescream online advertising boot camp – offered upon enlistment … er, I mean employment, to new recruits – we start by examining the ways online advertising is eerily similar, yet dissimilar, to its offline counterparts.

Whether you’re a newbie or a geezer, these comparisons can help us look at our work differently and more creatively. In this column, I’ll look at some of the ways online advertising kicks traditional media’s hiney, then next month explore some post-banner tools for the new media.

Online and television advertising offer the ability to enhance consumer branding strategies and positions. But with television, advertisers can reach a mass audience of viewers using moving images and sound to brand or sell their product or service. Viewers watch for blocks of time within which they expect to view (or ignore) a certain number of 30-second advertisements.

In contrast, the Internet is not a mass market but a collection of niche markets. Not everyone has the high-end multimedia machines required to receive a rich media message online. (There is no such thing as a “slow-loading” TV show.) And the Internet offers more than “TV you can point and click on.” Television viewers, in general, desire entertaining content, while Internet users generally seek informational content.

Viewers spend 30 minutes watching a favorite show and expect to see about five to 10 minutes of advertising. Internet users spend 30 minutes at six or more Web sites, in many cases never to return. They may be unaware that much of what they are viewing is advertising.

Online advertising is similar to outdoor advertising. Drivers on a highway pass billboards as they drive to their individual destinations. Like Web surfers, they are exposed to a brief branding message as they quickly pass the ad. Billboards conform to a particular size and placement.

The difference is that Web advertisers know a great deal about the visitors to their sites and even simple media placement can deliver targeted visitors. Billboard advertisers have no mechanism for measuring effectiveness or targeting audience. Web advertising is measurable, and new creative assets may be put in place easily if the desired effects are not obtained.

Both newspaper and online ads contain a tightly targeted display ad with a call to action, offer or coupon designed to entice readers to visit or call a retail store. But the resemblance ends there.

With the exception of nationals like USA Today and The New York Times, newspapers target geographically. Conversely, 10 percent to 20 percent of visitors to U.S. Web sites come from outside the U.S., and online retailers encounter challenges that those in a localized business market do not. Advertorial content in newspapers is labeled as such; but online, standards are looser. A hurried visitor can easily mistake advertorial content online for actual content. Online ads can take advantage of an immediate call to action.

Online, like radio, distributes sound, music or voice targeted to a specific demographic. It differs because radio listeners have the same technology, but not all online visitors have the high-end machines needed to receive the best in streaming audio and video. Online, audio and video are not always the best way to deliver the message. Radio generally has passive listeners, while the Internet has active users.

Print media sell space. TV, cable and radio sell time. New media publishers sell time, space, aggregate reach and relationships. And they are able to sell these in a controlled environment where they have virtually unlimited inventory.

At ease – that’s it for the first installment of online advertising boot camp.

Until next time, let these ideas guide you in your choice of media mix:

• Take advantage of the unstandard nature of online advertising.

• Creative assets work best when they speak to the largest number of people within their target audience.

• Pollinate your traditional advertising campaign with new ideas and tools inspired by the Web, such as survey ads, informal speech and computer-generated images. Dismissed!

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