Advertisers revisiting the Web: Study

Advertising on the Internet. Its effectiveness has always been a matter of debate among marketers....

Advertising on the Internet. Its effectiveness has always been a matter of debate among marketers.

Nevertheless, it appears more and more Canadian advertisers are feeling the need to revisit the Web as a communication vehicle in their advertising and media strategies.

Indeed, according to the recent Internet Marketing in Canada study, commissioned by Toronto-based 24/7 Media Canada, 78% of Canadian marketers surveyed expect their Internet commitments to increase over the next year.

The study, which polled over 200 Canadian Internet marketing decision-makers – on both the agency and client sides – found that while the industry is ‘vibrant and growing,’ there are several challenges to be addressed.

According to the study, fewer than one in four marketers rely exclusively on advertising or interactive agencies to buy Internet media. Rather, marketers are making those decisions themselves, and are also opting for a variety of partnerships, instead of a single interactive agency of record.

Jay Aber, president of 24/7, says the study found that while agencies are sometimes leading their clients in their adoption of Web-related strategies, clients often don’t include their agencies in their Web-related initiatives. Aber attributes that fact to the small number of agencies that are equipped to deal with this relatively new and fast-paced medium.

‘[The Internet] is substantially different. It’s a bit of direct response, it’s a bit of broadcast, it’s a bit of print, and it’s a bit of technology. Agencies [have told us] it’s not immediately clear the best way to set up to handle this medium.’

While the level of Web knowledge and sophistication is growing among ad agencies and media companies alike, the distribution of expertise remains uneven, says Brian Fitzpatrick, director of MindShare Direct & Digital, the interactive arm of Toronto-based media management company, MindShare Canada. The balance of power, he contends, rests with a relatively small group of companies made up of Web specialist agencies and the interactive divisions of major agencies and media management firms.

That may be true, says Heather Hackney, online planner at Toronto-based media management company Optimedia, but most media planners and buyers are now familiar with the rudiments of online marketing. She says many agency executives and clients are missing out on good online opportunities because they believe Internet marketing to be too complicated to understand, or simply not viable.

That’s too bad, says Patricia McGregor, vice-president and general manager with Toronto-based media management firm Genesis Media, because Web advertising doesn’t have to be difficult. You simply have to set clear measurement objectives, commit to the idea of continuous learning, monitor the campaign’s success and be prepared to refine your strategy based on your findings, she says.

With that in mind, Strategy recently asked several agencies to submit online media plans for one of two hypothetical products.

Here’s what they proposed:

What’s the product? An instant pocket camera

Who’s the target? Trendsetters 12-24

What are the objectives? To build awareness, to create intrigue and to generate sales.

What are its features?

The camera is inexpensive, and it’s available at photographic dealers, food and drug stores, toy stores and convenience stores across Canada. It’s supported offline by television advertising and point of sale.

Here’s what we asked the media planners:

Where would you go on the Web to advertise this product? How would you approach the task? Finally, what kind of advertising would you do, where would you do it and why?

(Submissions have been edited for length and clarity).

MindShare Digital is the interactive arm of Toronto-based media management company, MindShare Canada, part of WPP Group network. Here’s what they had to say:

Our plan is driven by two key consumer insights: The target is Web savvy, cynical and unlikely to get involved with our online marketing effort unless it is genuinely cool, relevant and involving. The target is also highly connected to its peer group through word-of-mouth, e-mail and chat rooms. The early adopter portion of the target are thought leaders and influencers. So a viral element would greatly amplify the impact of our plan.

We would use offline, in-store and online media to drive the target to a high-involvement, viral microsite. That site, a personalized photo album, would be heavily branded and sponsored by the instant camera company.

We’d invite consumers to build their own album, using photos and a personal audio message. We’d encourage them to share their album with friends by entering their e-mail addresses or allow their friends to build their own albums by sending them the microsite link. Our microsite would contain a hotlink to the main company site for in-depth information. It would also include a contest that required an instant camera UPC to qualify, in order to drive purchase and increase involvement.

All creative would feature a common look and feel. Offline and in-store advertising would prominently feature the microsite URL, the photo album concept and contest details.

As for our online media strategy, the creative would use banners, buttons and sponsorship elements, preferably in rich media format for maximum impact and involvement.

Placement would target specific, contextually relevant sites targeted to teens and young adults, as well as the photo-related sections of large portals and search engines. To maximize reach and drive volume, we’d also use cost-efficient networks capable of demographic targeting, channel selection and delivering Canadian impressions on U.S. sites. The success of the campaign would be benchmarked against a number of measurements, including number of impressions, number of clickthroughs and number of unique visitors.

As for specific partners, teen-targeted ‘cool’ sites might include YTV, ChumCityInteractive, MSN Hotmail and campusaccess.com. The photo-related sections of large portals and search engines could include Sympatico, Yahoo.ca. And potential network partners might include Engage, 24/7, DoubleClick, Advertising.com, Sonar.com and ValueClick.

To assess the effectiveness of our plan, we’d track and report performance weekly or bi-weekly, and adjust as needed.

Once the campaign is complete, we’d deliver a final report that compares actual performance to the benchmarks we’d set. We’d then use this information to develop recommendations to be applied to the next wave of advertising and future campaigns.

Toronto-based media management company Optimedia Canada is part of a global network by the same name. Here’s how they’d handle our instant camera challenge:

The youth market is beyond the early adopter stage – this group has always been online. So, in order to reach them effectively, you need to come right out and grab them, make them know you’re there. This group doesn’t see regular advertising – they need something new, flashy, and exciting. Getting them to interact with your brand will make the most impact.

To that end, we’d concentrate on unique formats – contests, microsites, interstitials, streaming video/audio/Flash – that will be more compelling to the youth market than straight banner advertising. Specifically, we’d recommend online couponing, a camera-branded contest on MuchMusic (users submit their best photos, other users vote for the best one and the winner gets a photo prize pack), games (whereby the user can ‘play’ with the camera online) and HTML/Flash e-mails through list rentals and site memberships.

Rather than use broad portal sites, we’d promote the camera on sites targeted to key interests of the target group. Specifically, we’d use Muchmusic.com (for contest promotion integrated with TV support), as well as entertainment and gaming sites, chat rooms, Shockwave.com, Romp.com, Hotmail.com and radio Web sites.

What’s the product? A retro-styled new car

Who’s the target? Classic car enthusiasts, and ‘modern’ individuals who want to make a statement with the car they drive.

What are the objectives? To build awareness, and revive an old brand

What are its features? The car is priced mid-way between economy and luxury models. It’s sold at dealers across the country. It’s supported offline by television, print and outdoor advertising.

Here’s what we asked the media planners: Where would you go on the Web to advertise this product? How would you approach the task? Finally, what kind of advertising would you do, where would you do it and why?

Fresh Advertising is a Toronto-based full-service ad agency with a focus on new media and technology. Here’s their advice:

At Fresh, while we exercise due diligence in coming up with an online media plan, we don’t rely solely on our own judgment. In fact, because of the unique properties of the Internet, our proposal is more a jumping-off point than it is a final destination. At the end of the day, we let the Web tell us where we should be placing our message. By analyzing where our traffic is coming from, who is registering and who is buying, we can then optimize our buy, our placement and our creative to maximize our client’s return on investment.

With respect to the retro car, we’d start by maximizing our qualified leads with an online contest to build a significant database of names and e-mail addresses. We’d pre-qualify the list with a questionnaire in the registration process.

New cars with widespread popular appeal are only available in limited quantities. We would sustain interest with ongoing e-mail communications to database members. We could also expand the database via online viral techniques.

The contest would enable the user to register to win the car. It would be highlighted in a custom URL in all of our brand’s image advertising.

While the Web environment – using the advertising products currently available to us online – is not always conducive to brand building, it is an excellent way to prompt recall of more conventional advertising methods and get the user to take action.

Online, our media planning would start with the networks DoubleClick, Engage, 24/7, and ValueClick, with the understanding that we will be changing the composition of our buy on a weekly basis (we might even cancel). We would also add in tier-one sites like MSN, Canoe, Yahoo!, AOL, Excite@home and Sympatico under the same terms.

As we said, this is merely our jumping-off point. From here, we’d go into full optimization mode.

We would do this by focusing our measurement technology on the thank-you page generated by the successful completion of a user questionnaire. That data tells us what types of sites are performing best against our metric of registrations, as well as which creative executions are performing. We can then change the nature and composition of our buy, as well as the creative, to reflect that data. (Our focus at this stage is to get opt-in registrations to populate our database.

Now comes the fun part. In addition to the grand prize, we’d offer weekly prizes, which gives us an excuse to e-mail our database on a regular basis. This allows us to provide the consumer with more information about the product and build some excitement around the brand. We would also offer referral prizes, in the form of additional ballots for the grand prize as well as prizes similar to the weekly prizes.

The goal is to build a culture of anticipation.

Genesis Media is a Toronto-based independent media services company. Here’s their recommendation:

We’re assuming car enthusiasts will seek out information on the new vehicle. Offline advertising will be placed in key books, and the vehicle will receive strong editorial coverage in the automotive press. The car enthusiast will be fully versed on the vehicle, its launch date, and its key features prior to the product’s release. The greater job to be done is to convince the ‘modern individuals’ target that this car is the one to buy.

According to PMB Print Measurement Bureau, style-conscious individuals who keep abreast of changes in fashion/design are more likely to:

• Have active lifestyles both inside and outside the home – they are definitely not homebodies;

• Be interested in all kinds of entertainment, but particularly visual arts; and

• Participate in a variety of activities/sports from bowling to downhill skiing – the key is that they like to be out there.

As for our online media strategy, this car is about personal expression. So we’d position messages on sites that reinforce specific aspects of the target’s lifestyle.

The Web offers the opportunity to place messages on sites that reflect the product that is being offered. A retro car is a niche vehicle that appeals to early adopters and ‘fashion forward’ individuals, so we’d focus on the following key site categories: fashion and design; entertainment (film and music festivals); urban sites (city magazines, urban weeklies); university and college sites (through purchased access to URLs at key urban universities); and gay media sites (such as Xtra Magazine).

We’d reinforce the product personality through focused message placement. Mainstream media will deliver broad awareness for the launch; the Web strategy should deliver the opportunity for the consumer to ‘experience’ the car through interactive communication such as targeted contests.

Targeted contests have several benefits. They’re interactive, and they generate both awareness and database opportunities. They can also generate excitement through ‘rich media’ executions such as video streaming and pop-up screens.

We’d recommend cross-promotional contests with mainstream print – such as Toronto Life; contests linked to concert listings and live concerts on targeted radio station sites; and contests linked to key festival sites – for example, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Montreal Film Festival, the Toronto Design Festival, etc.

Finally, we’d develop a database of entries for message links and product information downloading.