Nauseum - February 2002
(Credit: Net - Issue 93)
Lawrence Robinson discovers why
online advertising isn't working
is a low trade, full of miscreants. I should know,
I used to write copy for online and print advertorials,
that mutant hybrid of the soft-sell ad and objective
were slick tales about health products doused
in exclamation points and deceptive catchphrases
and testimonials, with all the integrity of a
Republican manifesto. I think it was Zelda Fitzgerald
who once said that the American Dream itself was
founded on the infinite promise of American advertising.
If that's the case, the Internet is slowly jolting
the dreamers awake.
at a time when Internet traffic in the US is at
an all-time high, revenue from online advertising
is strangely tumbling. Internet research firm
Jupiter Media Metrix recently slashed its estimates
for online advertising spending over the next
few years. 2001 estimates are now at $5.7 billion,
down from $7.3 billion. Demand is currently so
low for online advertising space that prices are
about half of what they were last year.
asked to come up with a good explanation for the
persistent slump in online advertising, Internet
analyst Safa Rashtchy of US Bancorp Piper Jaffray
said: "It may be that the Internet is a medium
that is more like the telephone than the television.
People have tried to do advertising over the telephone
but it just never really worked well."
1998, for example, the San Diego company Broadpoint
launched its Freeway service, offering free long-distance
telephone calls in return for listening to adverts
over the phone. The subscribers completed an online
questionnaire so ads could be targeted to their
specific interests, then dialled a special telephone
number and, for every ten to 15 seconds of advertising
they listened to, they received two minutes of
free calls. Despite attracting around 400,000
subscribers, though, the service folded in early
it seems unlikely that Web ads will follow phone
ads into the oblivion of everlasting engaged tones.
The problem is not that the Internet is an ineffective
advertising medium but rather that many of the
advertisement formats used have been ineffective.
There are exceptions of course.
such as BMW, Volkswagen and Skyy Vodka are fuelling
a new advertising and entertainment format. They've
discarded the soulless deviants who want you to
believe that you can reach orgasm by simply washing
your hair and replaced them with short film-makers.
Instead of pushing their products with annoying
banner ads or TV commercials with all the subtlety
of a concrete enema, the 'advertainment' shorts
subtly keep the brand name in front of viewers
as a story unfolds.
than seven million viewers have watched the bmwfilms.com
shorts and the company's sales were up by a third
in June. Skyy Vodka (www.skyy.com) similarly commissioned
three short films with the only parameter being
that they had to contain a Skyy 'cocktail moment'.
The rest of the creative input was left to the
films' directors, who included acclaimed Oscar
nominee Agnieszka Holland. Ford funded the three-picture
'Focus in Film' series (check out www.focusinfilm.com)
and Volkswagen, the 'VW Drive-In' (www.vw.com
placement in American movies and television shows
is not a new concept, but it still remains probably
the most honest form of advertising available.
If the story is good enough in itself, then it
doesn't really matter what car the character is
driving or what drink he has in his hand. Seeing
a cast member of the hit US comedy Friends sip
on a Starbuck's latte or spotting a bottle of
a brand name shampoo lying around as a prop in
the background only adds to the realism of the
York-based Unicast has now developed 'superstitial'
adverts (www.unicast.com/superstitial) that pop
up on the screen and tell a short story through
animation or a slide show. The key aspect of superstitial
ads is that, rather than making viewers wait for
their browser to load and buffer the video, they
load in the background and don't appear until
they're ready to play. The ads can also be interactive,
which may help them to rise above the level of
traditional TV commercials. One spot for Absolut
Citron shows a bottle covered with lemon peel
and a peeler. As the mouse moves the peeler over
the bottle, the peel unravels, revealing a shimmering
bottle of Absolut beneath. The 300-plus Unicast
clients currently using the format report that
an average of 12 per cent of viewers who click
on a superstitial make a purchase, compared to
0.4 per cent for those who click on a banner ad.
been a lot of debate about the best way to promote
products online. If the infinite promise of American
advertising is to remain the keystone of the American
Dream, the answer should be creatively. Hell,
I've lived in America for seven years now, and
I'm still waiting to be convinced it's possible
to reach orgasm mid lather.
Television with Greg Tingle
moments in product placement
Is Coke?, by Greg Tingle & Yvette Moore
Cars and The Media - A Dangerous Mix?, by Greg
streaker stunt rings up priceless publicity
Agencies - Why We Need Them, by Greg Tingle