The evolution of online advertising

A few issues back, I wrote a column complimenting TD Waterhouse on their innovative Globe and Mail ad, which had shown great co-operation among the creative people, the strategists, and the media folk. Chris Williams of VBDI then directed me to the Globe Web site, where the cyberpeople had done a good job as well.

A few issues back, I wrote a column complimenting TD Waterhouse on their innovative Globe and Mail ad, which had shown great co-operation among the creative people, the strategists, and the media folk. Chris Williams of VBDI then directed me to the Globe Web site, where the cyberpeople had done a good job as well.
Chris and I got an e-dialogue going, and he expressed the opinion that if you’re going to have integrated communication, the whole concept of a separate Online Department is yesterday’s thinking.
That rang a bell for me. I am so goddam old that when I first walked into Young & Rubicam at 285 Madison Avenue, there were separate TV art departments and print art departments on the fourth and fifth floor! Yes, television was so strange and so scary that it took a whole special breed of cats to dig it. (We talked like that then.)
It sounded pretty analogous to me to what’s going on with online today. Chris agreed. I then said, ‘Hey, Chris, why don’t you talk to Strategy’s readers about it?’ He agreed again.
So I will now exit the pulpit and turn it over to Chris Williams.
* * *
Online advertising is going through the same evolution that TV went through so many years ago. Agencies may choose to ignore online or delegate it to a specialized department, but to do so will only inhibit the proper placement of this medium within the brand, direct and media departments.
Version 1.0 of online advertising was all about clickthrough. It was a specialized department unto its own which also included the creation of Web sites, CDs and downloadable programs. Creative and media were optimized based on the measure of this immediate response. Creative briefs included ‘traffic by clickthrough’ as the objective for advertising. Needless to say, creative that didn’t include the magic words ‘click here’ was frowned upon.
Problem was, ads began to average about .5% clickthrough and no one was trying to quantify what the effect the other 99.5% had on the viewing audience. Could it be possible that these ads were working to increase traditional advertising measures?
I was talking to a U.S. online retailer at a seminar in mid-October about his media mix. Using predominantly outdoor media with some print, his expectation was to raise awareness, interest and purchase intent. When asked why he avoids using online media, he said it doesn’t work. ‘People just don’t stop doing what they’re doing online and start shopping because they see a banner ad on some Web site.’
He did not see any inconsistency in his expectations. If we were to apply the same objective for the outdoor as online, we should expect an immediate shopping response from exposure to the billboards. Like the billboards, online creative can create a lasting impression of the brand with messages that can work for customer acquisition, brand recall, and brand message association.
Version 2.0 of online advertising aligned itself with the direct marketing department. Rightfully it began the evolution towards being just another medium to reach consumers. Using sophisticated cookie-based tracking systems, connections were made between creative, media, frequency and desired activities on Web sites such as customer acquisition. Defining cost per acquisition has always given the direct marketer the consistency of business objective across all media.
Also, this version of online advertising saw the splitting off of Web site building activity into its own separate discipline. Building and maintaining Web sites cannot be performed within the context of advertising campaigns.
Version 3.0 will see the complete dissolution of the online advertising department. Just as TV and print can be used for direct marketing or brand positioning, online too will be added to both toolboxes.
There are numerous studies available at the Online Publishers Association and the IAB Web sites (www.online-publishers.org and www.iabcanada.com) showing how online can work for brand advertising. But it can’t be done in the context of an agency that has a separate online media department, online creatives and online account people.
That’s just antiquated thinking.
John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.
Chris Williams is director of interactive marketing at VBDI. He can be reached at cwilliams@vbdi.com.