Time To Define Competitive Protection?

Yesterday a client asked a logical question that had no easy answer. What is the standard in the Internet industry relative to page exclusivity for an advertiser? This falls under the category of competitive protection. Most media categories have this in place, but there is no standard that exists for the Internet (IAB and OPA, time to weigh in on this?). Should there be? Most definitely. But like many Internet standards issues, this is not going to be easy to define.

Some background:

Television and print have standards for competitive protection driven by the advertiser at the time of the deal. For TV, it is generally for the program or program segment (for longer programs) if there is a sponsorship involved. If it is a national scatter buy, quarter hour protection is generally agreed to. For spot buys, all you can hope for is protection during the specific break. Even these parameters can be hard to enforce sometimes because some of the inventory for any given time slot might be national and some might be local, with two different sales operations and trafficking systems.



For print, advertisers commonly ask for and get something like a six-page separation from competitive advertisers as defined for many publications and many consumer categories. This is much harder to ask for and to enforce in vertical areas or in BTB. Simply put, vertical publications attract a higher percentage of endemic advertising. As such, it is harder to keep them apart from each other. The penultimate example of this is the video game magazine that will have spread after spread of competing advertisers next to each other.

All the same, the understandings of buyer and seller for TV and print are fairly clear, with misunderstandings of delivery vs. expectation a rarity.

Which brings us back around to the Web. Those companies who are Web-centric and/or have been around for some time are conditioned to the fact that isolation from competitors is not realistic. Take CBS MarketWatch. When I opened up their home page this morning, there were six competitive ads from various brokers wanting your trading business. They all know that there will be competitors on the page, and it becomes their choice whether to a.) advertise there anyway as it apparently drives traffic for all and b.) whether to try to get a little more real estate than the buttons at the bottom of the page where most competitors are. Another example is the recent site takeover of by Sun. It was not in fact a complete takeover as there were advertisers that had fixed positions on certain pages and those could not be moved without changing the contract. So it was really a site takeover of all non-fixed position advertising.

As we get further into the branding business, there is an increasing number of consumer advertising media and marketing folks who are advertising on the Web for the first time. Their expectations are clearly different. My publisher client thinks that her customers expect page exclusivity, even though it isn't explicit in the contract. Besides the fact that there are technology issues here, what should the standard be? Clearly, agencies need to make sure that their insertion orders are clear as to their expectations in this regard. But are their expectations realistic or even feasible?

Input to the Spin Board on this topic is most appreciated. See you next week.

David L. Smith is President and CEO of Mediasmith, Inc.

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