Branding on the Web: A Case Study

Internet branding is more than a series of branding studies by companies seeking to sell more online advertising. It's actual campaigns going on now that are demonstrating how the Internet can be used to brand products and extend conventional ad campaigns.

One of the best places for Internet branding is CNet Networks, the technology news sites (CNet.com, CNetNews.com, ZDNetNews.com) read by a high tech audience amenable to Internet advertising. CNet has also been the leader in developing new large size ad units, which have been recognized by the branding studies as the best formats for branding. Its 240 x 400 pixel Messaging Plus Units (MPUs), launched in February with tabs that hold a wealth of content, are the ideal branding vehicle because you can "layer information that creates an additional means of an expanded relationship with the user," according to Bettina Stiewe, vice president of CNet Networks.

Indeed, the ability to layer information into an online ad makes the format a sensational one for branding. "Getting into the specifics about a product and the ability to register a customer for email gives you a customer relationship capability that's much deeper than a 30 second TV commercial," Stiewe says.

And customers agree. Paul Connolly, vice president of strategic marketing for Sybase, a software developer in Emeryville, CA will launch a campaign on CNet in September. Surprisingly, the high tech company has never advertised on the Internet before. "Traditional online units don't go as deep as we want," Connolly says, but CNet's MPUs "deliver information heavy messages that satisfy our criteria."

Connolly notes Sybase is using CNet as a branding tool. "Our product portfolio has grown but the brand perception has lagged behind and we need a marketing campaign that resets the perception by pointing to the new products," he says.

Connolly likes the way the MPUs will deliver the full message within the unit with no click through needed. He also likes how CNet positions the ads on the page, embedded within the editorial content with no competing ads. "They're intrusive but not annoying and placed editorially in a relevant way," he says.

"We eliminated other ad units from the page because it's easier to focus on one unit," Stiewe says. "It improves the ability to communicate the message."

Sybase had previously relied on print and broadcast, running ads in magazines that reached techies and senior management such as Computer World, Info Week, Forbes and The Wall St. Journal. Radio and TV ads have run locally in New York to reach the financial services industry.

The CNet campaign will extend the traditional media. "What you see on CNet is synergistic with what you see in print and broadcast," Connolly says. "The only difference is the level of depth. We can do things online that we can't do elsewhere." Stiewe also says Internet advertising can complement other media or take branding to another level. Another difference is that it is an "at work" branding medium, she says.

The new emphasis on branding will change the metrics that are used to measure online advertising, Stiewe says. "Click through is not necessary," she emphasizes. "The key element could be time spent. If they spend 30 seconds, it's the equivalent of TV." Other metrics could include how many tabs were clicked on a MPU or how many product units they got information on. "There are better metrics for success than click through. It's not the ultimate goal any longer."

Sybase plans three different creative executions of the MPU, which will rotate. Smaller units will run, too, but the MPUs are the major part of the buy, Connolly says.

Sybase won't use any other sites at first because CNet offered "a reach and package that was not met by others," he says.

That's good news for CNet, which adds another client to its growing list of advertisers. But it sends a message to other publishers--if you have the content and ad format opportunities that support branding, the advertisers will come.

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