Head of the Class or Tailgat(or)?

  • by September 20, 2001
I recently participated in a panel discussion for next month’s Media Magazine. The debate focused on the ability of select application to strategically place advertising on and around users’ desktops and browsers – and yes, Gator was the central part of this conversation. I won’t go into the specifics of the discussion, as you’ll be able to read it in next month’s issue, but I will take this opportunity to give some additional thoughts on the topic.

Whatever Gator is doing, they’re doing it well. Judging by the kind of press they’re receiving and the kinds of numbers they are reporting, they do seem to be riding the crest of a wave. Ironically, they’re doing something that most companies before them have not done – namely, using technology in the very way it was intended to be used: to fundamentally alter and evolve the online advertising and communications process.

There are several new terms being used to describe this functionality. But if you think about it, we’re just talking about guerilla marketing or some iteration of comparative advertising, which has been a part of our marketing lives for as long as we’ve been in marketing. When Pepsi stacked its superior test results next to Coke, consumers thought it was interesting for a short while, but soon went back to the bottled sugar water they love so much. And then there’s TiVo, as well as the new DHTML units that cover existing browser space. Should they be included in the same conversation too?



Is it possible that we’re laying too much blame on Gator? Are we crying foul because we’re witnessing an entrepreneurial rogue stealing our lunch? Or is it something a lot more serious: in a fledgling industry, are we witnessing a company biting the hand that feeds both them and us?

Arguably the center of the storm involves the strategic placement of “more” relevant ads (as determined by Gator) on top of existing “less” relevant ads (as determined by the publisher). This would make sense, but only if it were all controlled by the same publisher. Without this level of control, could you imagine where we might end up? Multiple companies could potentially come along and trump not only Gator, but each other as well. We’d end up in some kind of layered environment, based on the highest or most recent bidder (isn’t that where GoTo is right now?) I just wonder if the highest layer will also be the most relevant from the consumer’s perspective.

On the one hand, I do think there’s a bit of “scapegoating” going on. There are plenty of other companies doing similar activities – just the other day I got a pop-up price comparison “suggestion” from Comet Cursor. I didn’t recall signing up for that. All I wanted was a cute yellow rubber ducky cursor!

But on the other hand, I also think we might be witnessing a “kick ‘em while they’re down” tactic as the industry continues to wade through its present teething phase.

Speaking as a media buyer, I will make my own independent decision to choose whether or not to “feed the Gator.” I will evaluate this decision based on my clients’ business needs and respective brands’ characters. I will always (and I stress always) take the high road scenario, which basically means that if I can’t take it, I won’t dish it out. Lack and loss of control never bodes well if one is serious about preserving the integrity of the brand.

Ultimately though, it’s the consumer that will cast the final vote. The combination of dynamically populated forms, timely price comparisons and/or relevant messaging might very well be what every consumer is looking for online. If the demand is there, it can be qualified. If the follow-through is there, it can be quantified.

All I have to go on is a very real paranoia about privacy, coupled with the fact that the more experienced consumers become on the Net, the fewer sites they visit on any regularity. How many times do you need to fill out a form once signed up and registered? Additionally, is a loyal customer really going to be swayed to visit one of its rivals for a $1 discount on a specific book? Finally, I’m always concerned about taskbar overload. There are just so many programs you can run at the same time before your computer crashes or slows down to a crawl.

As always, we’ll just have to wait and see. But do give the New Media reptile some credit for reinventing themselves and sticking around in a time when many other companies haven’t been as lucky.

- Joseph Jaffe is Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York. His primary focus is to highlight interactive's value and benefit to meeting his clients' business and branding objectives.

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