Selling the Power of the Web

My "Where were you?" moment took place just after the first plane hit the North Tower. I was in a midtown meeting in a room whose windows face south. We all had a great New York view that sunny sparkly early Tuesday morning, a view extending all the way down to the World Trade Center. Suddenly a plane, a large plane, roared above, almost directly overhead, heading south, barely clearing the buildings around us.

"That plane's flying awfully low," one person said. "And its landing gear isn't even down."

We all looked at each other, shrugged it off, and went back to our meeting.

A few seconds later I noticed a large cloud of what looked like steam or smoke had rapidly formed to the south. It was growing fast, quickly dominating the skyline. When I pointed it out to the other people in the room, our impulse was to cling to normalcy - "It's probably just a building venting its incinerator," someone volunteered. And that was the last bit of normalcy we'd feel for quite a while.



When it became apparent that what we were seeing was anything but business as usual, each of us instinctively reached for our best sources of information. Cell phones came out in a hurry. The office was quickly searched for a television or a radio. I ran to my desk and tried in vain to log onto, but their server had already been swamped. Apparently quite a few others had also looked to the Web as their source for breaking news.

Last week Harris Interactive published a poll that showed how Americans got their news of the disaster. The results are worth repeating:

- Television was used by 76% of respondents as their primary source; it was used by 97% of respondents overall. - Radio was used by 15% as a primary source; 76% overall. - The Internet was used by 3% as a primary source, 66% overall. - Newspapers weren't used as a primary source (obviously); but were used by 16% of overall respondents.

So two thirds of Americans, according to this survey, turned to the Internet during a time of great crisis. And that doesn't count the number of people who used email to communicate with friends and family.

'Cadillac Man,' a lame movie of a few years back, had one great scene: a widow's hearse breaks down on the way to her husband's funeral. Robin Williams, a sleazy car salesman, tries to interest her in a new car. She responds by saying "Young man, in this time of my great grief, are you trying to sell me a car?" And calls him some choice words. I recall 'slug' and 'lowest form of life' among others.

So, in this time of our country's great grief, is this survey trying to sell the advertising community on the power of the Internet? Well, yes, sort of. It's clear that the consumer's need for information is best fulfilled by an interactive medium. The television networks, most visibly CNN and FoxNews, have attempted to satisfy this need by running crawls under their picture. Consequently, as someone said, "Now we have to be able to watch, listen, and read all at the same time."

The Web really is the better mousetrap. It might take the advertising community some time to finally figure out how to use it, but when that happens, watch out.

- Michael Kubin is co-CEO of Evaliant, one of the web's leading sources for online ad data.

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