Online Direct piggy-backs on popular sites

Why build an audience when someone's already gone to the trouble for you? That seems to be the thinking behind Online Direct, a Toronto company that identifies small to medium-sized vertical-interest Web sites, gives them a leg up in the interactive...

Why build an audience when someone’s already gone to the trouble for you?

That seems to be the thinking behind Online Direct, a Toronto company that identifies small to medium-sized vertical-interest Web sites, gives them a leg up in the interactive department, and then promotes them to advertisers willing to pay for the chance to get closer to a loyal, targeted audience.

‘We don’t go cold turkey and say, ‘This is a nice topic, let’s create a Web site and hope people come,” says David Cravit, sales and marketing director for Online Direct. ‘We want to piggy-back on an already established audience.’

It’s a model that Cravit is confident will appeal to advertisers who are fed up with paying for general interest banner ads that typically generate clickthrough rates of less than one per cent.

To that end, Online Direct recently announced the first two of its ‘private brand’ Internet communities with the launch of WellnessWeb – a Philadelphia-based site that has been offering health information over the Net since 1995 – and the Ben Wicks children’s literacy site.

More than a dozen other sites are in the works, says Cravit, six of which are in Canada, including that of a major Canadian retail chain, a large financial services company and a major paint manufacturer sponsoring a home décor and improvement community.

As the subject matter of the first two sites suggest, they are the embodiment of ‘vertically oriented’ Web vehicles, with features pertaining to very specific audiences. In many respects, they are typical of the small to medium-sized, information-based Web sites on the Net that draw a considerable amount of traffic but are without the wherewithal to generate their own revenues. Online Direct converts those sites into fully interactive and transactional communities by attracting advertisers craving the opportunity to target their Web advertising directly toward a specific audience.

At no cost to the partner, Online Direct supplies the site with a salesforce, as well as chat, messaging, forum, virtual greeting, home-page creator and cybermall tools. Proprietary tools include an online catalogue for vendors, polling and surveying software, and database tracking software. Revenue is generated through several different streams, including banner advertising, opt-in e-mail, couponing, promotions, sponsorships and e-commerce/shopping. A portion of the revenue generated is shared with the partner site.

The key to the no-fee model, according to Cravit, is that the partner site has an existing audience that is valuable to a certain population of advertisers.

As an example, WellnessWeb currently records about 200,000 unique visitors per month. Earlier this year, in a bid to become self-supporting, Lenore Howe, executive editor with the organization, struck up discussions with Online Direct and together the duo launched a bigger, better site in early November.

‘This was a perfect match up between an old, large Web site that didn’t have a clue how to do all this, and a young, new company with all the software and ideas,’ she says.

While it’s a little early for specific results, she says, the community established about 12 online forums on different health topics and reached roughly 1,200 to 1,500 registered members in the first month after its metamorphosis.

‘We can communicate with members in many ways – we still have the e-mail option, but now I can direct the e-mail queries back into the community to post messages on the forum boards. It creates a much more interactive atmosphere among the visitors,’ says Howe.

She says she is now able to tell advertisers exactly who the typical visitor is based on simple registration forms and tracking software. The site currently touts a community centre for members to stay abreast of relevant events, a personal organizer for scheduling appointments and events, a medical directory that lists doctors, hospitals and clinics, and a wellness shop that offers health-oriented products and services. Further opportunities for national and specialty health vendors and advertisers to sponsor live chats or educational programs, or even conduct focus groups online, are in the works.

‘So far we’ve kept things like our polling feature very general with a question about health concerns, but we can well imagine working with companies in the future to formulate survey questions about specific topics, areas, and products, for example. It’s the perfect medium for that,’ Howe says.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group