Commentary

When Network TV Is Not An Option, Think Internet

Apparently concerned with being associated with war coverage, last week, Toyota announced plans to pull its ads off network TV. There has been speculation in the press that other automakers could follow.

This is certainly bad news for the networks already suffering from the cost of covering the war and loss of other advertising especially during wall-to-wall coverage early in the conflict.

Toyota's decision could be a two-edged sword. While they avoid having their ads run after or before potentially gruesome war footage, they could recede from public awareness at a time when the entire auto industry is suffering from a prolonged downturn in sales.

Robert Passikoff, President of Brand Keys, which recently ranked brands on their ability to survive the demands of an economic and social environment at war, says, "Consumers will be looking for continuity and reassurance. Brands that are visible and viable - even in the face of war - will thrive. If there ever was a time to advertise, it's now."

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While Toyota will apparently still maintain a presence on cable TV, their best alternative to network TV is simply, the Internet.

Putting aside that the Internet is undeniably the first stop in the car buying process (J.D. Powers and Associates says among the 60% of new-vehicle buyers who use the Internet for research/shopping, 88% visit automotive websites before arriving at a dealership for a test drive), the Internet can make up for the boxcar impressions lost by avoiding network TV.

Seventy-five percent of Americans now have access to the Internet from any location. There are frequently more visitors to websites than the largest audiences delivered to advertisers by prime time broadcast programming. For example, the top three Internet properties, AOL, MSN and Yahoo!, each attract more than 100 million U.S. visitors per month. The Online Publisher's Association says that Internet content sites draw 3.8 million users per minute during the daytime. By contrast, the season finale for "Survivor" the highest rated show on TV this year, delivered about 29 million households in an hour.

While TV is an exceptional medium for getting the consumer's attention with the emotional rush of a well-executed car spot, the Internet can provides marketers a unique ability to collect data about an advertiser's target audience. Traditional media never actually interacts with its audience so it cannot verify if its audience projections are true, nor determine how their audiences react to advertiser messages or make rapid adjustments to achieve better results for marketers.

The Internet is unique in that every moment a user is on any particular site, the publisher can collect information about him/her. In fact, by assigning a universal cookie to individuals, data can be collected on them whenever and wherever they happen to navigate. So, it can easily be determined how long an individual is online; where they are coming from (down to the geographic location of their ISP), what kind of content they consume (or just as importantly, what content they ignore), what kind of ad units they interact with, what they buy or subscribe to, what kind of offers they respond to, etc. As publishers increasingly incent users to provide personal data such as age, gender, income, street address or zip code, etc. this information can be combined with content server and ad server data to provide a comprehensive profile of every user.

If Toyota would move what they are canceling in network TV to the Internet, I'll bet their experience will be so positive, a good deal of that spend will remain online.

Mitch Lowe is the CEO of Jumpstart Digital Marketing, an interactive marketing and media sales organization that focuses exclusively on the automotive industry. Lowe can be reached at mitch@jumpstartDM.com.

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