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Share Fare How To Leverage Online Advertising
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Share Fare How To Leverage Online Advertising

Jon Gibs, Vice President, Media Analytics, Nielsen Online

SUMMARY: Brand advertising shrinks. Online ad revenues flatten. More advertisers spread their spend across more sites. What’s the fix? Nielsen recommends a four-point plan featuring 1) more creative online ad format options, 2) more concentrated content to fewer targeted audiences, 3) a focus on web sites with high consumer satisfaction ratings and 4) metrics emphasizing time per page, not pages per person.

As the economy goes, so go brand advertising budgets…

As the economy goes, so go brand advertising budgets. Advertising expenditures for 2008 declined 2.6% over the prior year, a reflection of repressed consumer spending and higher commodity prices which conspired to put a crimp on margins. Hispanic cable TV and cable TV were the only media to post growth numbers in 2008 at 9.6% and 7.8% respectively. Things could have been worse. Those numbers incorporate the incremental lift delivered by the presidential election and Summer Olympic ad buys.

While things looked pretty good on the brand ad front in 2007, there’s been a steady decline in ad spending during 2008, attributable to a bad economy, rough overall advertising environment and a plethora of web sites competing for dollars with little to offer in the way of differentiation. Perhaps the biggest upstart in the downturn is the exploding influence of non-monetized media such as social networks.

Search for an answer

With the advent of reliable, accessible media players, video has become an Internet staple and changed the face of online advertising. The medium has risen above search as a primary form of consumption, while predictable ad formats like buttons, banners, leaders, skyscrapers or rectangles are losing their luster, and more importantly, their ability to engage sophisticated surfers.

No doubt, online media has unrealized potential…

No doubt, online media has unrealized potential. Roughly 57% of Fortune 1,000 companies advertised online in at least half the quarters from the past three years. Unfortunately no single winning strategy or reliable rule book has emerged to guide advertisers looking to build brand loyalty, share of mind or unit sales.

Many companies are impossibly fragmenting their ad schedules…

Too many to matter

While the Internet has become an accepted part of brand media planning, 20% of Fortune 1,000 firms are distributing ad dollars across as many as 32+ web sites and another 20% of large firms are distributing ad dollars across a range of 8–31outlets. Perhaps the most troubling indicator is the fact that many companies in the 32+ site group are impossibly fragmenting their ad schedules across more than 3,000 individual sites.

New metrics and new thinking are called for. Topping the wish list of big-spending advertisers willing to consolidate their campaigns on a handful of URLs are savvy web sites offering more experimental ad formats that encourage creativity and boost consumer involvement and interaction.

The call for enhanced creativity is a universal desire. According to a Nielsen study, advertisers pined for “out of the box” thinking, new ad formats, more collegial input from publishers, digital dialogues with consumers featuring more candid and authentic discussions, and demonstrable consumer value.

Who’s who?

A Nielsen Online custom analysis of the Ad Relevance database of 465 web sites and 617 Fortune 1,000 advertisers were reviewed in an effort to define companies based on their online advertising strategies. Four discrete segments emerged:

The most desirable advertiser segment…

Long-Term Partners: the most desirable advertiser segment, these firms buy prestige media brands that deliver a combination of large reach and loyal viewers. Online ad schedules tend toward a high concentration on a handful of sites.

Niche Partners: tend toward smaller, local sites like area TV stations and newspapers, often with a niche focus. While their buys are concentrated, niche partner are lower volume advertisers.

Online Dabblers: big name big brands, with intermittent ad schedules often designed to test a niche, or deployed as part of a cross-media deal. This segment represents the next generation of heavy Internet advertisers.

Network Heavy: prefer to buy ad networks and portals pursuing a large volume, low concentration strategy which diffuses both ad message and budget impact. Basically, these advertisers buy everything and only partner with a web site on occasion.

Leading by example

Some advertisers are finding success. ConAgra, Exxon Mobil, Clorox, Cisco Systems, Foot Locker and Barnes & Noble each bought millions of online impressions in the fourth quarter of 2008, and further amped-up the impact by concentrating more than 90% of their digital dollars on a single web site.

ESPN.com recently underwent a complete overhaul of their web site. The redesign moved video and advertising to the forefront, while dropping a leader board that rolled over content in favor of one that expands down without veiling content. Video offerings now sit at the top of article pages instead of the corners, and are easy-to-use with seamless streaming. The new look has posted some new and impressive numbers: 45 seconds per page, an audience of 19.5 million visitors and 29% of advertising utilizes non-standard formats.

Time per impression is more important than clicks or even audience…

Change the perspective

The Internet is still evolving and maturing as an advertising medium. Tough economic conditions are forcing the hand of web publishers who need to revisit their offerings. First order of business: develop more meaningful metrics to measure Internet advertising impact. Time per impression is more important than clicks or even audience. Two seconds on a page impression, regardless of reach, will likely yield little return per impression.

Sites will need to reduce page clutter and stop cutting pages into smaller and smaller units to increase ad opportunities. Instead, the focus should shift to building a strong site reputation so consumer goodwill and positive feelings transfer from the site to advertisers’ brands.

Lastly, reach is important. Not just the absolute number of visitors, but the demographics of those visitors and their relationship with the site. Part of the online ad buy equation will be to gauge the intensity of interaction and nature of the audience since fewer sites will be selected. The ultimate measure of success? When Internet advertising achieves creative parity with award-winning network campaigns.  An opportunity still simmering in the background: figuring out a way to leverage the nascent power of social media. When it comes to online advertising, the best is yet to come.