Forecast 2004 - A Wrap Up

  • by September 26, 2003
Highlighted by unquestionably successful and exciting online advertising campaigns for Bailey's, General Electric, and Intel, MediaPost's annual Forecast 2004 conference held yesterday in New York with 250 or so attendees left one overall, indelible impression: this is an industry that has weathered the bust wiser and healthier than ever.

Put another way, the industry finds itself looking at the future with a lot more tried-and-true options. Granted, with some new or greater problems (what to do about spam and scams being first on the list; see related story on MediaPost today).

But, in the main, the conference, which featured a Traditional Media Day as well, clearly demonstrated that the online industry has become a vitally important part of today's media mix. Statistics in related stories on the MediaPost Web site today clearly back that up--with online ad spending projected solidly upward for this year and on into 2004--but the mood of the online-day conference was just as telling.

Media agency legend Gene DeWitt, a panelist during the first day of the conference, said at the start of the online day's activity, "I'll be here all day. This stuff is not going away."

Media planners and buyers of all sorts were joined by agency creatives, publishers, technology specialists, and a wide variety of companies that serve the online media services.

Mindy Pickard, Vice President New Products & Consumer Marketing at Showtime Networks, a Viacom company, said she was at the conference to bring herself up to speed on the latest developments in online advertising and consumer marketing so she would be better able to manage her online staffers.

One of the liveliest debates of the conference arose over the issue of whether you can get your online transactions and have your branding rewards at the same time.

It's tough, of course, but it can be done.

Witness the wild world of Orbitz, the online travel and hotel site.

"If you drive a lot of traffic to good product," observed Geoffrey Silvers, Director, E-Marketing at Orbitz in Chicago, "at the end of the day millions of impressions will reinforce your overall brand."

So, too, if in the pursuit of transactions you become known by Net users for something memorable at your site, brand recognition gets enhanced. The memorable, and unexpected, experience at Orbitz' site was a game that started out more interactive promotion rather than actual game.

"Customers want things that are fun and engaging," said Silvers, who set up the interaction marketing promotion that turned into a full-fledged game. "What we found was that many of the visitors to the site were playing the game for a half-hour or an hour at a time. Naturally, they received branding messages as they played the game."

The result? "Transactions are up, conversions are up," said a satisfied Silvers.

At, which only advertises online, "We don't do branding per se with our online advertising," said Aaron Finn, Vice President, Acquisition and Analysis. "But we do create awareness." The fact that, with its ubiquitous Internet ads, has become an online household name, has led to some fruitful off-line joint ventures, Finn said.

David H. Martin, a media planner at Ignited Minds in Los Angeles, weighing in on the direct response/branding debate, said: "We should be less afraid of a clickthrough sometimes being low, because we need to price our inventory in accordance with our marketing objectives. A buy shouldn't be based just on CPM. Until that happens, and I think it will happen in the next couple of years, you won't see many online campaigns that were created solely to raise brand awareness. Why should I do a brand campaign for the same cost of a call-to-action campaign?"

At, James J. Spanfeller, President and CEO, is under no illusions that he can make major changes in the way a consumer thinks or acts. "Anybody who thinks they can control user behavior online is kidding themselves. We want to make it clear and easy for people to go where they want to go on our site," observed Spanfeller.

Toward that end, works closely with its advertisers to help them target the location on the Forbes site where they are most likely and most effectively able to meet the visitors they most want to reach.

Spanfeller is so confident of his site's approach that he offered a money-back guarantee to 25 of its advertisers if specific objectives weren't met.

"All of them worked," said Spanfeller.

In the realm of search and contextual marketing, discussion was all about search advertising, text or otherwise. While at present nobody seems able to resist key-word specific search advertising, more than a few conference attendees, representing varying vantage points, suggested that in fact search marketing may be growing too much, too fast, with the likelihood of big players piling on a true threat to bidding wars that put prices out of reach of many marketers. Beware a backlash akin to that taking place under our feet against spam, pop-ups, pop-unders, and other forms of truly intrusive online advertising, they warned.

On the other hand, GasPedal's CEO Andy Sernovitz reminds us, Americans do love their advertising; they do love to be kept abreast of "the latest," even if that means putting up with a little more intrusiveness than they might prefer.

Noted Patrick Keane, in charge of advertising sales strategy at Google: "We're in the business of selling conversions. Not now, but I think the industry is going in that direction." Concentrating on contextual advertising is the name of the game at WhenU. "The beauty of a contextual message is that you have limited inventory so it almost forces you to very carefully target the consumer."

On the rich-media front, for now suffice it to say that its expansion into a major force in the online advertising world seems inevitable.

"We've seen rich-media advertising more than triple in the past six months," said Lorne Brown, Founder and President of New York-based Trafficmac, which handles rich-media work for a variety of publishers and other clients. "There's been a lot of talk about when rich-media content is too much at a site location. But what it should come down to is what the user wants to see."

Advertising veteran Richard Hopple agreed, and, admitting prejudice, said he believed third-party vendors can best handle the complex and technology-challenging demands of rich media. Hopple, Chairman and CEO of Unicast in New York, observed: "Third-party vendors, if they've made the proper investment, can add a great deal of value through their technology innovation alone. At Unicast, we have what we're confident is a truly unique technology for handling rich media. It cost us a lot of money, but that allows us to have a true competitive advantage--to rise above commoditization."

And so it goes.

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