Media for the Online World

The ad sides on major Web content sites are all into "the basics.” “Let's get back to the basics,” they say. “Forget reach and frequency. Let's talk instead about the quality of our audience and how well we serve them.” And implied therein: “Why can't you judge us like TV or print?” Good question. Want a good answer?

It's because you're not. You're not TV, you're not print. You're the Internet. I've been covering this space since 1985 (long before there was a space) and this has always amazed me beyond measure. Everyone comes here from somewhere else (kind of like America) and they all want this medium to be like the ones they left behind. So we have ad campaigns that speak to all the old media. We have pop-ups, we have pop-unders, we have pop-overs, we have pop-pop-pop ads flying over story leads and TV-like ads that make users wait before they get to the story.

Even on a broadband connection these ads spend so much time loading, and playing, and yakking at us, it's no wonder people tire of playing whack-a-mole and just decide to veg out in front of their TiVo. The real problem, of course, is that these are print and/or broadcast ads. They're not Internet ads.

If you want to see real Internet ads, go to Google. Google makes a ton of money from ads. But Google has no pop-ups, no pop-overs, no turnovers, and no hot crossed interstitials. Instead, Google has context. It has very specific context.

The basics are different in every media business. Reach and frequency are mass media terms. How much of my market is reached through this station, and how often must I hit them before my message gets through? Internet basics are different. The audience isn't a mass. The audience is one, one person at a time. And the key to getting that audience down the sales funnel is context. Get an ad in front of a prospect when they're looking for that product.

Branding requires that you pound your message into the brain as often and memorably as you can, so when the prospect decides he wants, say, a toasted waffen-futter, he (or she) will remember that, of course, Momflop makes the very best toasted waffen-futters.

It doesn't work that way on the Internet. You're after one thing at a time on the Internet. Everything else is a distraction A branding message on the page might go into your peripheral consciousness, and if it's there often enough it might become memorable. Sponsorships make brands memorable.

How do you get context? With databases, relationships and sponsorships. You put relevant advertisers into relevant content, so good feelings about that content seep into the mind of those who loves that content.

Content sites have lots of tools for developing context: email, buyers' guides, your editorial product. If your relationship is personal enough, the user will take your recommendation to the bank when they're ready to go down the sales funnel. The funnel's length depends on the product. A refrigerator has a longer sales funnel than a whatsis-meatie. But it's your job to provide the context that pushes the user down that funnel on behalf of your advertiser.

Your job is to organize and advocate a marketplace or lifestyle. Nothing is more basic than that. On the Internet, you reach that marketplace or lifestyle one person at a time. That's the basic truth of the Internet.

And those are the basics.

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