INTERNET WATCH

Advertising on the Internet must be useful or entertaining if it is to win over

Much of the advertising on the Internet represents little more than an electronic Yellow Pages, only slower, less relevant, with big gaps and no proper index.

The Internet is not an advertising medium in the normal sense of the word. Rather, it is a hugely fragmented and unstructured information vehicle which many wrongly believe can be used just like any other advertising medium. Plonk your ad on it and, hey presto, 30 to 40 million people will see it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Being optimistic, let’s say 35 million people worldwide have access to the Internet. Removing people who have access in their office but don’t actually use it (because someone in the IT department has it) brings the figure down to 20 million. Now look at the people who use the Internet on any one day – perhaps 10 million. Now remember, they have a choice of at least 4 million Internet addresses to look at. And they are paying the phone bill to access a site. Consider that they will look for items that are useful or entertaining. Now, not many will browse through the typical ad.

Last year’s rush to create sites, in the wake of media hype, saw thousands of advertisers launching inappropriate sites for Internet users. They offered very little of value to the phone-bill payer and many directed the hapless user to the telephone for the real information. For many devotees it was a case of being conned by their own rhetoric.

While 1995 was the year of hype, 1996 will usher in a sense of reality. Expect large numbers of advertiser sites to be discontinued (some reports suggest more sites are being removed than launched), and many changed to become more relevant to users.

Sites need to be useful and/or entertaining. Those that can capitalise on the unique benefits of

Internet technology, such as access from anywhere in the world, data searching and electronic dialogue, have a better chance of success.

Some advertisers seem to be heading in the right direction. Take the Carling Net site, for example. It is a vast (and fast) up-to-date compendium of football facts, news, results, statistics and gossip from the FA Carling Premiership. This is very useful for the many football fans who use the Internet in the UK, and a useful extension of Carling’s sponsorship of the Premiership.

Only a few advertisers can take advantage of Internet technology. A good example is Federal Express which allows its customers, wherever they are in the world, to tap directly into the FedEx global package-tracking database, at any time of the day or night, to pinpoint the current status of their package. This saves FedEx an estimated $2m per year in staff costs.

The system includes a facility whereby customers can request their package status be automatically e-mailed. In addition, customers can download free FedEx document preparation software, providing the tools to complete and print export forms correctly. However, the FedEx site is more of an integral part of the FedEx product than an advertisement.

Zenith Media

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