Increasing competition between US Website owners for the attention of new Internet users is highlighting the need for Web publishers to start early in promoting themselves as mainstream consumer brands.
In the States, a number of sites are already trying to develop brand identities for themselves through high-profile advertising campaigns. Their goal is to become the powerful media brands of the future and so build a basis for winning long-term mass consumer loyalty.
Among the services that have most fully recognised the need to embrace traditional advertising to achieve this aim are America Online and Yahoo! They have been running TV advertising since October 1995 and April 1996 respectively. According to a recent article in USA Today, both companies have focused their advertising message on “user-friendliness over technical issues and Net esoterica”.
Following their example, USA Today reports that a number of other US Website owners are now keen to communicate clear brand identities to a mass, non-technical market. One such is the Hub, an entertainment site aimed at men aged between 18 and 34. An ad campaign for the Hub is breaking in car, clothing and healthcare magazines. This month, it will step up a gear to reach a broader consumer market through radio, print and outdoor sup ported by a range of less orthodox promotions.
Another US Website seeking to establish itself as a mainstream brand is Entertainment Asylum, which is reported to be including TV and radio ads in its mix.
The reason for this wave of interest in traditional brand building campaigns is the changing profile of Net users as the medium continues to grow. This group depends heavily on advertising communications and brand values when making choices about new products and services.
The US experience sets a clear precedent for Europe, where estimates suggest that there will be nearly 35 million users by the year 2000. At the same time, technology designed to facilitate home Net access, such as the NetStation TV top box, is becoming generally available.
As in the US, this increased Net access will provide great opportunities for Website owners to become significant media brands. Consumers are becoming more receptive to the Internet as an information and entertainment source. It is at this stage in their development as online users that they will be most receptive to advertising developed to shape their future online behaviour.