Commentary

Can't hurt. Could help.

Such confusion! I spend a great deal of time meeting with agency media people, and the amount of uncertainty and mystification on how to best use the Web is impressive. Having traveled the agency media circuit for almost 25 years, nothing in my experience parallels what I'm seeing today. As Bonnie Raitt asks, "When did the choices get so hard?"

The first hurdle for an agency planner, of course, is whether to recommend advertising on the Web to his client. Of late the press has been merciless, egregiously ripping Web advertising at every turn. One of my favorite calumnies appeared in the normally sober The New York Times under the headline "Ad growth slows sharply." The article goes on to state that online ad revenue growth slowed to 21% in the fourth quarter of 2000, as compared to the previous fourth quarter.

Let's focus on that number for a second: 21% growth. And the headline is "Ad growth slows sharply"? Hello! Mr. Headline Man! What were you THINKING? And did you bother reading the LAST line of the article? That's my absolute favorite: "For all 2000, Internet ad revenue totaled $8.2 billion, up 78 percent from 1999."

If that's the Times' definition of "slows sharply", I'd hate to think what it takes to be described as "GROWS sharply."

Anyway, the point is that for some reason the press has been dumping all over online advertising, making the planner's job more difficult. After all, no one wants to get up and present a media plan to a client whose reaction might be "What are you, nuts? Haven't you been reading the papers? No one advertises on Web." Yeah, right. Like Yogi said, "No one goes there any more. It's too crowded."

Once the decision to advertise on the Web has been made, the fun really begins. So many choices! Email. Banners. Sponsorships. Rich media. Wireless. And more every day, it seems like. And the questions that the planner must answer are: Who are we trying to reach? Are we trying to get people to click on the ads, or is this a branding effort? How much should this stuff cost? And what kind of creative fits the job best?

At one time the Web was hailed as a miracle of media, a way to target an audience with pinpoint accuracy and measure results down to fractions of decimal points. What it has turned into is a nightmare of choices. But there is good news: Marketers that try the Web as a medium tend to stay with it. And there are many new advertisers jumping on every day. And there are many advertisers still sitting on the sidelines, waiting to make sure the water's safe. They'll jump in soon enough.

But the really good news about advertising on the Web is that the risk of doing it is low. Media and creative expenses are teeny compared to other media. And accountability is high.

So here's your mantra for advertising on the Web: Can't hurt. Could help.

- Michael Kubin is co-CEO of Evaliant, formerly Leading Web Advertisers - http://www.evaliant.net - one of the web's most powerful sources for online ad data. He may be reached at mkubin@evaliant.net

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