Why Web advertisers need to readjust their priorities

Although ADSL will help Net advertisers to move on from the banner ad, they must first find the key to consumers’ behaviour online.

Humour me for a second and take a step back. No matter which media you choose to examine, advertising in its simplest form is about delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. And it is the power of the creative treatment contained therein that holds the key to good marketing. Enter online advertising stage right, billed as the next panacea and every marketer’s dream.

And yet for a medium that, according to Forrester Research, is bigger than direct mail, outdoor and cinema advertising, it has had its share of negative publicity in recent months.

Too many of these complaints are about banners misdirecting consumers away from content. Add to this the grumblings about the lack of a comprehensive system to measure online demand, and it seems the proverbial can of worms has been opened.

Few business commentators have missed the irony that for a medium that is arguably the most accountable in terms of return on investment, its limitations in measurement techniques are its undoing.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about banner ads but they still remain the most common way to drive traffic to a site with, according to eMarketer, over 45 per cent of advertisers currently using them. With click-through rates dropping in recent months to less than one per cent, it is clear that a high volume of traffic is no good unless it is the right kind of traffic.

Cost-per-click deals are only relevant for certain types of campaign, and have never been a genuine benchmark of success. Engage Technologies, for example, now advocates the fact that banners with the highest click-through rate only lead to the highest rate of conversion into sales 14 per cent of the time, with 32 per cent of transactions or registrations coming from users who view a banner ad but do not click.

Branding on the Internet takes time and repeated exposure, so volume will still have a place to a degree but the emphasis will remain on creativity and targeting. Advertisers must look beyond the banner. Pop-up ads such as interstitials, superstitials and transition ads are a step in the right direction, but innovations such as Flash animation and streaming audio and video also generate interest and response. The advent of ADSL (assymetrical digital subscriber line) will improve standards further as the Internet at long last gets the bandwidth to compete with traditional broadcast media.

The industry has a vested interest in devising new and accountable methods of personalising messages to their customers. But the ultimate test will be to analyse and understand the increasingly sophisticated behaviour of consumers online and how they react to different messages. As more research tools become readily available, those packaged goods advertisers previously slow to adopt the medium will start to divert significant investment to it.

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