Websites must learn lessons from DRTV ads

Many companies set up a Website, often at great expense, and just expect people to visit. But with more than 5 million sites available, why should they land on yours?

The Website is a great means of communication ­ once you’ve found it. But don’t expect people just to turn up to your party: you do have to invite them.

It was only a few years ago that companies thought it would be a good idea if they got people to phone them, by putting a telephone number on their broadcast commercials. But what happened in the early days of telephone-based direct response TV advertising? Early campaigns were often marred by advertisers including a minuscule phone number tacked on the end of their commercials ­ that is, very small, shown for two seconds, with no voiceover.

When Channel 4 investigated the effectiveness of DRTV back in 1993 it found, unsurprisingly, that average response rates were low. But by teaming up with BT and analysing calls, commercials and audiences against various criteria, we were able to point out which commercials were getting the better response. They commonly featured phone numbers on screen for a reasonable length of time, displayed in an adequate size and accompanied by a voiceover. Advertisers took this on board, response rates rose and the number of ads with phone numbers grew.

Along comes a brilliant interactive vehicle called the Worldwide Web and what happens? All these lessons seem to have been lost.

Somebody has spent effort and money creating the company Website, and yet the view seems to be: “Let’s not tell anybody.” Too many on-screen Websites addresses are too small and are only shown for one or two seconds.

In the detailed monitoring of TV response commercials last year, C4 found that 17 per cent of ads did carry a Web address. But the simple rules, now adopted for phone numbers, were not being applied to Web addresses.

Moreover, following 50 interviews with advertisers and agencies, it was apparent that a culture of “smallness” with regards to URLs had developed.

Yet a survey among the public using the C4 Website, showed only four per cent of Web users found URLs easy to remember, and over half said the URL should stay longer on the screen.

The Web is a great interactive marketing tool. Companies should promote it properly.

Hugh Johnson is head of research at Channel 4

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