The Internet: Mass or Class?
"A balanced audience is desirable, serving as an indicator that the domains and sites contained in that property combine to provide the proverbial 'something for everyone.' While one of the beauties of the Internet is that specific sites can be wildly successful in targeting specific genders and age groups, at the property level Internet companies become like any other mass media - they must attract as broad an audience as possible in order to remain viable for the long term."
At about the same moment, BusinessWeek Online was reporting:
“While large sites like Yahoo are still getting the lion's share of total ad dollars spent, a lot more money is going to targeted websites with small, focused audiences. It's pointless to reach 100 million Yahoo users who may not be in the mood to buy, some marketers reason. Instead, they want to interact one-on-one with a tightly targeted audience. "There's no correlation between impressions and value," says Jupiter Media Metrix's Rudy Grahn. "The Net doesn't have a mass-marketing dynamic. It's a targeted-marketing dynamic.’”
Well, which is the Internet - mass or class?
While the Net can undeniably be a mass reach vehicle for advertisers, that sensibility is slowly strangling the Web. Of course the Internet advertising community practically pulled down its collar and tattooed “place thumbs here” on its own windpipe by selling the Net as a mass, undifferentiated audience charging CPMs at below a dollar or, even worse, accepting cost per action deals. I understand the economic downturn made some of this kind of selling necessary and getting 50 cents per thousand was better than getting zip-per-thousand, but the result was a flood of inappropriate, untargeted, often trashy creative advertising that pissed off users and delivered miserable results for advertisers.
It also gave ammo to those who remain on the sidelines yelling, “See, I told you Internet advertising wouldn’t work!”
In spite of spy camera pop-ups and cascading redirected pages, consumers aren’t stupid. They have learned over many years of media consumption that there is a correlation between the brand and the environment in which it is perceived. There is a reason Chevis Regal runs in high-end consumer magazines and not mass audiences periodicals. It is the same reason Archer Daniels Midland sponsors TV news analysis and not the latest reality show or “Win-A-Bzillion-Dollars-Quiz-of-the-Week.” Or why Oracle runs in the Wall Street Journal, but not in the free alternative weekly. If your quick answer is that’s where their prospects are you would only be half right.
The other half of the truth is that they want to position their messages in the context of media brands for which consumers not only have high regard, but with which they have built relationships. Which bring us to class on the Internet.
Until content publishers can provide better data on who is coming to their sites and what they are doing there, something Dave Morgan is addressing right now at Tacoda Systems, the most convincing case publishers can make to advertisers is that the environment of their unique online media brands attracts quality audiences. Offline media brands (read: Reuters, Fodors, Zagat, Entrepreneur, and Kiplinger) have the advantage of name-recognition going back years before the Web, but some companies have managed to build trusted media brands that exist only online (read: CoolQuiz.com, education.com, BizRate and Business.com.)
Let’s face it; the Internet has given us TOO many choices. The barrier to entry is appallingly low and the appearance of quality can be exceedingly deceiving. So what do you do? You go to brands with which you have a pre-existing relationship. Even when you use a search engine. You might start out putting “women sports” in the search box on Google, but when Sports Illustrated Women shows up in the results, where are you going to go first? Now, you might keep going to other sites looking for more resources, but you are certainly going to stop at the name brands first.
You want to find a good restaurant? You’ll trust Zagat before some off brand ratings page that for all you know was cobbled up by the guy who owns the restaurant. You know you can trust the integrity of media brands because they have earned your trust over the years with quality content that you can rely on. You come to these brands with an expectation, yes, a trust.
That is why advertisers need to be on branded sites, the class of the Internet. The same trust that consumers bring to content, “rubs off” on the advertising. An appropriate ad on a trusted site is simply better received by consumers.
If you want to shotgun your media, tossing your ad into low-CPM banners rotating on sites you don’t know, being associated with destinations that may or may not be trusted media brands, God love you. But don’t be surprised by the results and don’t blame it on the Internet.
Blame it on your lack of media class.
- John Durham is President of Winstar Interactive Media