Meanwhile, advertisers are tiptoeing back into broadcast and newspapers, many with calls for the relief effort or expressions of sorrow for the lives lost. There is a very fine line between getting back to protecting your market share and promoting products and appearing insensitive to a country already stretched thin by grief, horror and anger. And no one is entirely sure just where that fine line is. Mistakes will be made. Print and broadcast creative developed pre-terrorism but only now running may appear insensitive; there are examples pilloried every day now in the media.
The interesting thing to me is which media are being singled out for spankings. Outdoor, broadcast (for both content and ads), print and film (for movies now deemed inappropriate.) Rarely, if ever have I seen reference made to Internet advertising (eBay selling WTC memorabilia is another matter altogether). Is that because sites can more rapidly pull ads not in keeping with the times? Or because the creative was hardly ever creative enough to be make anyone’s radar? Or because of the nature of the medium?
Advertisers have long known that certain kinds of advertising works better in certain kinds of media. For example, until VERY recently ads for bras, panties and feminine hygiene products ran almost exclusively in magazines. Readers of magazine were/are said to have more “personal” relationships with their publications than with their TV screens or radio stations. Somehow that made for a more acceptable environment to discuss undergarments and that time of the month. Prescription drugs used to run only in print because they needed the copy space for those long lists of disclaimers and medical warnings required by law. Now in broadcast the warnings trail off the end of drug commercials voiced over by the guy who can talk the fastest but still sound sincere.
But what of the relationship 21st century Americans have with the Internet? The debate here seems not so much to be about the content of the ads, but the form in which they unrepentantly pop up or prance across your screen. Or how much space on a web page they occupy or how much more effective one rich media experience is vs. the next one.
I don’t know about you, but I have a very close relationship with the Internet. It helps me keep current on news that often takes longer to filter into other media (especially advertising news). Sure, TV and newspapers jump on the Big Stories in a Big Way (who among us now wouldn’t recognize Ashleigh Banfield in a restaurant). But day in and day out, you can’t beat the Internet for the depth AND breadth of news (from stuff I’d otherwise probably never see, such as UK newspapers). Similarly it has information on virtually everything I need to know (if I can indeed find it). With your bookmarks you can count the ways you have a relationship with the Net. Further, with the exception of some forms of ads that require a good deal of effort for me to remove from on top of what I am trying to read, I like Internet ads.
This is not to say that Internet ads can’t and shouldn’t be a good deal more creative and interesting, but that I have a relationship with the Internet that is far MORE intimate than with my magazines and newspapers (with broadcast not worthy of being in the same sentence with intimate.) Yet with rare exception – those being young interactive agency guys still in their creative diapers – I am not offended by ads I see on the Internet. To be honest, if American and United are offering great incentives to come back and book with them, I WANT to see the offerings in the right space on the Internet. Something that might not seem “appropriate” for other media. Doesn’t mean those ads should replace the banner appeals to donate to various worthwhile relief efforts, but with the nearly limitless ad inventory of the Internet, there is room for both.
I think the Internet is a perfect place for advertisers to get back in the game. They can test reaction to messages (that’s the great things about the Web’s interactivity, people will show you how they feel in short order, you don’t have to wait for the focus group research). I think most Internet users are like me and see the ads as information that can be useful and extremely timely.
And odds are you won’t be reading about advertisers getting smacked because a Web publisher failed to pull their ads.
John Durham is President of Winstar Interactive Media.