Execs Debate Online Ad Spending Lag

LOS ANGELES--Given the oft-repeated statistic that consumers spend about 18 percent of their time on the Web, why do marketers spend just 4 percent of their media budget online?

Marketing and media executives at the OMMA Hollywood Conference & Expo Monday proposed different theories, ranging from the belief that television is the safer choice, to difficulties with measurement, to simple reluctance to embrace change.

Tom Bedecarre, CEO of interactive shop AKQA, asserted that disproportionate spending on TV ads stemmed from denial about television's waning influence, as well as a strong desire to preserve the status quo. The spending decisions, he said, are made by "people who have their head in the sand, and like to go to sandy beaches to shoot TV commercials."

Other panelists to weigh in included David Cohen, executive vice president, U.S. Director of Digital Communications at Universal McCann; Nick Pahade, president of Denuo, a unit of Publicis Groupe; Scot McLernon, senior vice president of advertising, CBS Digital Media; and Clark Kokich, worldwide president, Avenue A/Razorfish.

Kokich proposed that ad executives are fundamentally "risk-averse" and, at least until now, have perceived TV as the safer, tried-and-true ad medium. Executives believed they wouldn't "get in trouble by recommending a television campaign," even if it didn't work, but greenlighting a Web campaign that bombed was perceived as a black mark.

But, he added, those perceptions are quickly changing. The "herd mentality" of ad executives "has shifted to the benefit of the industry," he said.

Universal McCann's Cohen said that marketers don't take a one-size-fits-all approach to Web spending. "It's about an overall plan that gets you results," he said. Currently, Cohen added, clients in some categories, like travel, spend 20 to 30 percent of their budgets online; others, especially consumer packaged goods marketers, spend closer to 3 to 5 percent on the Web.

Cohen also stated that problems with measurement, including diverging statistics about site visits, contribute to marketers' hesitation to shift budgets online.

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