In the early days, the lure was the ready availability of data that was capable of demonstrating a causal relationship between advertising and its effects. This quickly proved to be a dead-end as click-through rates started to become the sole determinate for success whose relevance was not clear for those advertisers not selling widgets online.
Then we tried bigger and better creative units to entice marketers to use the web more robustly for their advertising efforts. This is still part of the strategy for getting general market advertisers to give the web a go.
We've also stacked up piles and piles of studies and research and examples of online marketing successes.
But is any of this meaningful to the general market advertisers out there who spend the big money, the consumer packaged goods clients that have lots of money to spend on advertising? What is it that would get these kinds of advertisers to be using the web? What has worked to date?
Right now, online promotional efforts seem to have proved to be the most compelling to clients in the CPG category. Clients I've worked with over the past year and a half are most interested in using the online medium as a means to carry promotional campaigns that provide people a reason to hand over to the client their personal information.
They do not sell product on line, so their motive for data capture is more to build their own database of names to which they can market later.
Sometimes many of us in this business get blinded by the bright and shiny "neat-o" factor that the web so often holds. We sometimes forget the fundamentals in light of the innovations and newness that the web has regularly offered up. This is not to say that innovations and newness should be shunned; it is intelligent use of innovations that have made so many brands and products successful. But these interesting advancements should not be engaged at the risk of the fundamentals.
The best ways for CPG companies to engage a consumer are the same as they've always been, with compelling benefits and compelling offers. Most of the same things that have been done in offline media by CPGs can certainly be done with online media. The question isn't what works, but is there any will to do it. Branding efforts, support-level media, and online couponing... all of these things can work online the same way they do offline. The issue becomes, does a marketing or brand manager at a traditional CPG want to take dollars from something they KNOW works to try something new. Few are bold enough to do this, and so it happens that it is the VP of marketing that will first mandate a "test" of online media's capabilities to carry efforts traditionally committed offline.
At the end of last year, for the first time, one of my CPG clients took to extending their offline branding campaign to the Web. As is the case with all media, each has its own unique strength, and sometimes those strengths are played to accomplish a certain set of goals had by an advertiser. But a lot of times, qualitative considerations of communications objectives are sacrificed for quantitative considerations. Basically what I mean is this: perhaps I should chose print because it will allow me to be more copy-heavy, which will be necessary in promoting the interesting but rather complex "Brand X;" however, the reason I'll ultimately end up buying print is likely based more on what kind of reach it can give me against a particular target for a certain price.
Until quantifying online media in terms of communications delivery is better (namely reach/frequency), then its "killer app" needs to be taken advantage of as a complement to the traditional marketing efforts of a CPG. This "killer app" is the medium's capacity for data collection. Working as part of the media mix, advertisers can commit unadulterated branding efforts offline while learning about just whom it is they are affecting online. It isn't like most people use but one medium. Marketers just need to do a better job of managing, manipulating, or being part of a potential consumer's flow experience.
CPG clients right now are trying to get two things out of the interactive medium. They are trying to A) learn just what the medium is capable of and B) reach niche segments with smaller budgets. I worked with a client last year that launched a brand new product with only $100,000. The target was teenage girls, not the easiest to reach audience. The entirety of that budget was spent against online media. And the launch was an unmitigated success.
The greatest challenges facing CPGs today are the same as they've always been: loyalty and price sensitivity. Interactive can help maintain loyalty by enabling the engagement branding experience (also called "Involvement Branding") in ways that other media cannot. The efficiencies that can be had in online media will help to mitigate the cost pressures that consumer price sensitivity can cause.
So, when all is said and done, general market advertisers will be attracted to the web for the same reasons they were attracted to other media: the ability to do something that can't be done with another medium and to move product off of shelves. The influences and reasons for consumer action are not new, they are old. What is new are the ways the influences are carried and the shape reasons for actions take.