SAN FRANCISCO — It's easy to temporarily lose your hearing at ad:tech05 San Francisco.
Walk any area of the interactive marketing conference — exhibit floor, session rooms, hallways or the press and speaker room — and crowds of excited, chatty people are there. Butt-brush is common in blocked aisles, interruptions of conversations are the norm and dot-com-heyday breath mints are back.
“I think it's excellent,” said Rick Burish, senior account executive for search engine marketing at Verizon SuperPages.com, Irving, TX. “Good traffic, lots of first-tier players, great energy.”
Expectations are high. More than 6,500 registrants are anticipated through the show's close April 27, a 50-percent-plus jump from 4,000 at last year's ad:tech in San Francisco.
On the exhibitor side, all the online blue chips are here: 170 of them, from suppliers in search marketing to banner specialists, Web analytics firms to interactive agencies. Also, there are portals, ad serving networks, market researchers, affiliate marketers, e-mail services companies, database marketers, rich media vendors and even insert media, list and teleservices firms.
But what stands out is the preponderance of companies offering search marketing expertise.
Included in the ranks are 24/7 Real Media, Accipiter, Adknowledge, adMarketplace, advertising.com, Avenue A/Razorfish Search, BlowSearch, Business.com, Did-It.com, Enhance Interactive, eXact Advertising, Fathom Online, FindWhat.com and its eSpotting brand, icrossing and Impaqt.
Other search exhibitors include iProspect, Kanoodle, Kellysearch.com, Lycos, Revenue.net, Search Engine Optimization Inc., SearchAdNetwork, SearchForce.com, SearchIgnite, SearchRev, Semphonic, SendTec, SideStep, SLI Systems, SmartSearch Marketing, ValueClick Search, WebSourced's Keyword Ranking and WhitePages.com.
Also here are the big players: Google, Yahoo Search Marketing, America Online and Ask Jeeves' AJInteractive.
It is conceivable that most suppliers offer the same range of services with a slight variance in their delivery.
“People want more distribution, more availability,” said William Cronberger, vice president of Kanoodle, Getzville, NY. “It's not about us fighting Google. It's really about getting more through different distribution outlets.”
Booth traffic at Yahoo Search Marketing, previously Overture, was brisk.
“The leads seem to be a lot more general, not so specific,” said Patrick Peters, sales rep for Yahoo Search Marketing, Pasadena, CA. “They want to know about application protocol interface — a way for us to feed them information — and which one is better and why, Google versus Yahoo.
“Other than that, it's very basic. They advertise with some of these people [on the exhibit floor], and they want to try us.”
As is common at interactive and direct marketing trade shows, ad:tech is a venue for suppliers to announce new products, services, clients or rebranding initiatives.
Peter Smith, head of business development at FindWhat's eSpotting Media (UK) Ltd., London, was at the show to push not just pay-per-click services, but also the company's new pay-per-call offering. Plans are to introduce pay-per-call in Europe by year's end. Ad:tech provided the audience Smith was targeting.
“It's been great so far,” he said, “excellent for traffic.”
It is launches du jour across online categories. Some innovations were announced while others were disclosed on request. Internet marketing pioneer 24/7 Real Media was pushing Decide DNA, a new search campaign management tool suitable for licensing.
Casale Media, Toronto, promoted a new reporting optimization suite called Optimax. The company also redesigned its publisher/user interface.
“The show's been so well organized,” said Julia Casale-Amorin, executive vice president of marketing at her family-run firm. “We've made very good contacts. We did this show for branding and awareness.”
Traffic Ads Media Inc.'s Findology, a pay-per-click search engine drawing 800 million searches monthly, was there to make its presence felt in a fiercely competitive market. The Santa Monica, CA, company will launch an instant messenger service in September, sales manager Diana Thai said.
Hotbar.com Inc. had several fresh initiatives: new rich media floating creatives; additional niche filtering; and international targeting capability as well as behavior-based. The New York company lets users download its Hotbar toolbar to aid online browsing and e-mailing.
Impaqt, a search marketing agency in Pittsburgh, upgraded its Exstonet extranet for clients focused on multi-conversion campaigns as well as organic and paid searches. It also launched an intelligent landing page, tying paid search into rich media executions.
“We're trying to get conversion rates increased,” said Ethan J. Hagerty, manager of Exstonet technologies at Impaqt.
Executives at Skyworks Technologies, a Hackensack, NJ, developer of online games, touted Advergame.com, its branding games division.
“As our business has evolved into other areas of gaming, we thought it was important for us to have a business unit solely focused on advergaming because it's growing at such a fast pace,” Skyworks president/CEO Garry Kitchen said.
Used increasingly by marketers to generate interest and loyalty from consumers, online advergaming is a $70 million business, according to estimates for last year.
Brand marketers, particularly in consumer packaged goods, are driving other loyalty measures. CPG companies are starting to use SMS text messaging to let consumers enter codes and redeem rewards like ring tones or sports news subscriptions, as vendor SoftCoin Inc. is noticing.
The craze started when Pepsi ran an iTunes commercial during the 2004 Super Bowl, asking viewers to text in codes listed on its bottle caps, said Stan Roach, vice president of marketing at SoftCoin, Brisbane, CA.
“The idea of SMS marketing as a touch point can sit in the interactive marketing arsenal to reward or grow consumer relationships,” Roach said.
SoftCoin recently signed Cadbury Schweppes' Dr Pepper, Sara Lee and Dial as clients.
AOL Media Networks also had much news for prospects, clients and inquirers. AOL.com is to be introduced in June as a free online service rivaling MSN and Yahoo.
AOL.com will offer free e-mail and other services on the Web as it faces a problem: It is shedding paid subscribers faster than it is gaining or retaining them. The number of AOL.com subscribers is about 20 million and falling. With the launch of a free AOL.com, the company can expect higher ad sales because of the anticipated jump in impressions.
America Online also is banking on the launch of an online travel service backed by Travelocity and the relaunch of its shopping site at www.instore.com, which is powered by Shopzilla. The company's new voice-over Internet telephony debuts this summer, too.
What's interesting is that AOL's booth is directly across from the company whose model it seeks to emulate: Yahoo.
Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. Mickey is reporting from the ad:tech show in San Francisco. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters