Online approach must be subtle

Little over two years ago, Jim Hoskins founded CPUsed, a small used computer equipment store in central Toronto.Three months after he opened for business, Hoskins began to advertise his wares online with Magic Online Services, also in Toronto.Since signing on, Hoskins...

Little over two years ago, Jim Hoskins founded CPUsed, a small used computer equipment store in central Toronto.

Three months after he opened for business, Hoskins began to advertise his wares online with Magic Online Services, also in Toronto.

Since signing on, Hoskins has not looked back.

Helped ‘quite a bit’

He says advertising online has helped his sales ‘quite a bit,’ because some customers who seek out his advertising on Magic are influencers and recommend his business to their friends.

‘Advertising’ online is not like the advertising most consumers are familiar with.

It is a virtual impossibility to avoid advertising in newspapers, magazines and subways, and on radio and tv.

But it is a different proposition with online advertising.

A double click is all it takes for an online user to avoid an advertiser’s message entirely, a simple act that Hoskins admits concerns him.

To avoid the dreaded double click, Hoskins counsels honesty: ‘It’s the worst place [to advertise] if you’re not going to take care of people.’

Need subtle approach

Cameron Johnson, vice-president of Magic, says a simple rule for advertisers coming online is that they cannot ‘bang someone over the head’ with their promotional messages.

‘In the longer term, what we’re really telling advertisers is that 24 hours a day, every day, people can find you,’ Johnson says.

‘If you hit them once, and you annoy them, they will never come back to you again online,’ he says.

‘If [an auto company] annoys somebody online, eventually `kill’ files are going to come.

‘Acculturation process’

‘It’s a very subtle process, and that’s the acculturation process, because advertisers are used to grabbing people by the neck and shaking them.’

Peter Mosley, creative director of Davis Communication Consulting in Markham, Ont., is working with a number of clients in several sectors to develop online advertising.

Mosley, an unabashed fan of Magic, offers, like Hoskins and Johnson, cautious advice to advertisers considering making online messages a part of their promotional mix.

Mosley says advertisers can’t ‘snow’ people online, nor can advertisers scan in an advertisement and then expect to take charge with an ‘I’ll sell you stuff’ attitude.

That, says Mosley, is a waste of time.

Instead, he says, advertiser candor and an offer to the consumer of something of value in the language of the online customer is the approach to take.

Because online advertising is still pretty much in its infancy, in Canada, anyway – in the u.s. online ads are more advanced – the form they take, beyond being interactive, is still being worked on.

Hoskins says his ad or ‘conference’ on Magic is simple.

He lists the prices of his stock, the products he has available – no small consideration when used computer equipment has a two- or three-day turnover time – product descriptions, advice on repairs, and the like.

Johnson says the advertiser interest for his online service has been ‘overwhelming.’

At the moment, he is negotiating with eight of the 10 largest record companies in Canada to advertise on Magic.

Although he cannot divulge many of the details, Johnson will say, using the Rolling Stones only as an example, that the group’s record company could include visuals of the group, tour dates, concert reviews and a ‘sound sample’ off a new release.

He says the sound would be degraded so someone wanting to buy the release would have to go to a music store.

Not the obvious market

Interestingly, Johnson says this sort of advertising is not aimed at the most obvious target group: younger consumers at ease with computers and the new media.

He says, instead, the advertising is geared towards people aged 35 or more who do not like music stores because of the noise and crowds.

In future, Johnson says, this sort of advertising will be further refined.

A consumer could call up a record company’s advertising on Magic, listen to the sound sample, decide the music is worth having, then click a button to order the new recording to be home-delivered.

Other possible clients

Johnson says two other advertisers contemplating using Magic to spread their message are a tv show and a group of 290 wine merchants.

He says The Shirley Show, a daytime talk show hosted by Shirley Solomon on the CTV Television Network, is considering posting visual clips from previous shows on Magic.

And he says the wine merchants, who represent wine producers, might decide to create a new food and beverage conference listing vintages, product availability, and the like.

Mosley adds a further category he would love to see on Magic is real estate.

How to charge for ad time on Magic – or on any other online service for that matter, remains somewhat problematic, not least because Johnson says the ‘quality’ of the people online is more important than their quantity.

For example, he says maintaining record company advertising on Magic is not cheap; in fact, it is about the most expensive there is and far more than Magic’s most basic charge of $5,000 a year.

Mosley says there is not a lot of quantifiable data about online advertising, nor is there any charging formula, so there has to be research to provide one.

online advertising is here, and probably here to stay. And although the development of that advertising on Magic is not clear, one of its pioneers offers a rough guess:

‘We gotta get slicker,’ Hoskins says.