It’s time to get excited again

Shortly before I launched full-bore into this year's Top Ten Interactive Campaigns competition, I had an interesting discussion with one of my amazing digital marketing contacts.

Shortly before I launched full-bore into this year’s Top Ten Interactive Campaigns competition, I had an interesting discussion with one of my amazing digital marketing contacts.

He asked my perspective on the state of the interactive industry – what I’d been hearing from both clients and agencies. We chatted about the fact that for the longest time, the industry – that is, the Internet services industry, in general – has been hanging its head in sorrow.

With good reason, I suppose. At least two pureplay Web shops bit the dust this year (Modem Media and Ice). Agencies, on the other hand, probably didn’t feel the pinch nearly as much – most share clients with the various divisions of their agency network, so they’re guaranteed at least some business. But let’s be honest, the interactive divisions of most agencies are on the periphery. They are stepping it up – at the urging of clients, I’d wager – and likely, will increasingly capture the power. Indeed, most of the winning campaigns of the second annual Top Ten Interactive Campaigns competition – which showed a marked improvement over last year’s entries, according to second-time judge Andrew Keyes, principal of Toronto-based e-marketing shop Armantus – were created by agency interactive divisions: Grey Interactive claimed top spot, for the second year in a row, for its work with E*Trade; MMI, ZAQ and Rogers AT&T Wireless grabbed silver; and Cossette Interactive and Coca-Cola earned bronze.

In the end, my contact and I both agreed the outlook is positive – for the first time in a long while – and that it’s time for the industry to wake up. Business is picking up, and clients – traditional companies and major brands, including MasterCard Canada – are driving the movement in large part. The budgets are finally there – or at least some of them. Money is being spent in online advertising and marketing. (Wish I could tell you how much and where it’s coming from, but most clients are ‘in the planning stages right now.’ Reports indicate it’s anywhere from 1.5% to 6%.)

Clients have shaken off the misconceptions and the fears and have begun to really take hold of the medium and see the value, thanks in large part to a select few Internet evangelists – the enthusiasm, among other things, having been sucked out of the sails of many other Web champions.

The key realization, of course, being that Internet advertising really works, when done properly. There’s a plethora of stats and research to back it up. Just check out the results of the winning campaigns. E*Trade Canada managed to grow the number of new active customers of its Power E*Trade product, in two very specific target audiences, by over 42% – an increase of over 65% from objective. It should also be noted that the E*Trade Trade Smarter Faster campaign, was not a one-off Web spot but a strategic component of an integrated ROI-driven program.

I recently met with Wendy Muller, the new head of Canadian advertising sales and operations for Google. She says the Canadian operation’s various search engine advertising opps are garnering clients – including Sears.ca and RBC Financial Group – response rates of 4% to 5% higher than what they’re used to seeing on the Web. And high response rates are exactly what will elevate the online advertising industry in Canada, she says, adding, ‘There’s finally the opportunity to be pro-active – the budgets are there!’

Sure there will always be the skeptics and naysayers. And there’s no question people are still wrapping their heads around some of it. But the focus has changed from ‘why Internet advertising isn’t effective’ to ‘how do we incorporate it into the mix? And what works, exactly? And how should you put together your online buy?’ Those are the questions you should be asking yourselves.

For now, the channel is still used mostly as a forum for collecting data and communicating via e-mail, and less so a branding vehicle and straight advertising channel. And measurement is slowly starting to get in line with other media.

Microsoft, for example, recently announced it has adopted an anti-Internet buzz word philosophy as part of an effort to make online advertising accessible to traditional brand managers who scoffed at the Internet’s potential, or complained they simply didn’t understand the stuff. According to reports, the software giant’s lobbying efforts have included doing away with terms like ‘unique user’ and ‘page views’ in favour of mainstream ad-industry concepts like ‘frequency’ and ‘coverage.’

As agencies continue to beef up their interactive expertise, and pureplays harness their past experiences and valuable insight… I think the industry is catching its second wind.

I’m glad to see the colour slowly returning to the collective cheeks of the community. If you ask me, it’s high time everyone got excited again.

Cheers,

Bernadette Johnson

Editor, Strategy Direct + Interactive

bjohnson@brunico.com

P.S. Check out Bern’s blog, a new feature on our redesigned Web site at:

www.strategymag.com/d+i/