Category Archives: Online Advertising

AdAge: Maybe the Web’s Not a Place to Stick Your Ads

Great article on AdAge  (registration might be required, I can never tell what’s behind their annoying subscription firewall) that shoots holes in the tired thinking that marketing on the Internet is all about banner ads. The lemmings couldn’t be more wrong, says author Michael Creamer:

What you’re about to read is not an argument for making over web marketing as a factory for destination websites or for making every brand a content player. … This, however, is a call to give some thought to a question that’s not asked enough about the Internet: Should it even be viewed as an ad medium? After all, in some quarters of the broader marketing world, the habit of looking at advertising as the most important tool in the marketers’ toolbox is undergoing intense interrogation. Consider the growth of the word-of-mouth marketing business, premised on the notion that people not corporations who help other people make consumer decisions. Or look at the growing importance put on public relations and customer-relationship management both in marketing circles and even in the c-suite.

The same conversation should be going on around the Internet. Trends like those listed suggest the possibility of a post-advertising age, a not-too-distant future where consumers will no longer be treated as subjects to be brainwashed with endless repetitions of whatever messaging some focus group liked.

Nice to see someone at an advertising trade pub call out banner ads for what they are: an outdated attempt to replicate the past sins of the print world instead of creating something unique for such a transformational medium.

MySpace the Media Company

As traditional media companies attempt to turn their Web properties into social networking sites, it seems that MySpace is evolving into a media company. The New York Times makes that point in an article explaining how MySpace, though still operating independently under News Corp., is taking on many of the characteristics of traditional media companies as it builds out its own content. The site has “become very mainstream. It’s about consuming content and discovering pop culture,” co-founder Chris DeWolfe told the Times, which goes on to say:

As a result, the MySpace site resembles a portal like Yahoo or AOL as much as a social networking site. Peter F. Chernin, the president and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, called MySpace a “contemporary media platform” and said the site existed to “create content and connect people to one another.”

A quick view of the homepage shows that the portal comparison is correct. New sections devoted to news, politics and celebrities all feature original or licensed content (in addition to the site’s traditional user-generated content, including, for example, links to celebrity MySpace pages). It’s a pretty clear indication of where MySpace is going, since the new content is a way to attract advertisers – the lifeblood of any media company – without soiling the personal profile pages of MySpace’s gazillion members.

I don’t know if the “mediatization” of MySpace spells doom to the purists who just go there to connect with friends. And there are plenty of people pointing to MySpace’s slowing growth as a sign that the site’s appeal has peaked, but if I were AOL, MSN or Yahoo – or any other media company trying to reload to stay competitive – I’d be plenty worried.

Random Stuff That Caught My Eye Last Week

Facebook flip-flops on social ad platform. A firestorm of protest over the social networking site’s Beacon opt-out ad system resulted in a major mea culpa from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and changes that will allow users to turn off the feature. Ah, the perils of pioneering new online advertising models.


Coke launches island in virtual world Just what the real world needs – another Second Life competitor. I’m thinking of launching my own virtual world, called You register, create an avatar and then … nothing.


Airlines, coming and going. I’m reading about JetBlue planning to add Internet access to their flights while I’m flying United, whose customer-facing employees are collectively joyless. Talk about going through the motions.


Newspaper filler. The New York Times had a story in its Travel section on Friday about people who name their vacation cottages. The Web won’t kill newspapers – bad content will.

Had-to-Happen Dept: Viruses in Online Ads

The Wall Street Journal has a chilling story (paid sub required, sorry) about hackers planting viruses in online banner ads. Click on the infected ad and bang! the payload lands in your computer.  From

In May, a virus in a banner ad on automatically switched visitors to a Web site that downloaded “malware” — malicious software designed to attack a computer — onto the visitor’s computer. ScanSafe Inc., one of the first security firms to discover the virus, estimates the banner ad was on the site for at least 24 hours and infected 50,000 to 100,000 computers before Tom’s Hardware removed it.

This trend – call it the evolution of the spyware pop-up – could cause major headaches for members of the online ad ecosystem, from the advertisers to the publishers to, in particular, the network providers that serve up the ads. The complexity and automated nature of this supply chain will make it difficult to keep hackers out. With large chunks of ad budgets being shifted to online, this problem could quickly percolate into a full-fledged crisis. Just wait until malware starts showing up on web-enabled cell phones!

I knew I had a good reason for never clicking on web ads.

One Step Closer to the Death of the Page View

Nielsen/NetRatings announced today that it will no longer use page views as a measure for website traffic rankings. This is a big deal for the publishing and advertising industries, who for years have used page views (and unique visitors) to determine online ad rates. In its place, Nielsen will begin tracking total time spent and number of sessions for all visitors, which most webheads agree provide a far better indication of a site’s popularity in this age of Ajax applications and video content. Here’s a quick snapshot from AP on what this means for the most highly trafficked sites:

Ranking top sites by total minutes instead of page views gives Time Warner Inc.’s AOL a boost, largely because time spent on its popular instant-messaging software now gets counted. AOL ranks first in the United States with 25 billion minutes based on May data, ahead of Yahoo’s 20 billion. By page views, AOL would have been sixth.

Google, meanwhile, drops to fifth in time spent, primarily because its search engine is focused on giving visitors quick answers and links for going elsewhere. By page views, Google ranks third.

It’s silly to count instant messaging sessions toward site traffic, and I’m sure there will be other kinks to work out as the industry makes this transition. But this is a smart (and overdue) step toward more rational metrics for the online world. (My pal David Churbuck has been ranting on this for a while.) The big issue now is getting the various measurement services to agree on audience measurement standards, since they all report different numbers and no one can agree on who’s right. That nut will take a bit longer to crack.

The Digital Shift

The new advertising campaign that Microsoft launched this week for its Office 2007 software suite is tilted heavily toward digital media. Rachel Bondi, senior advertising and brand director for Microsoft’s information worker product marketing group, said 60% of the campaign spend is being invested in the digital space – nearly double the slice devoted to digital for the Office 2003 launch campaign three and a half years ago. “Print and out-of-home advertising are still important for driving awareness [of the new release],” Bondi told me (I interviewed her for an upcoming article in 1to1 Magazine). Digital, on the other hand, is being used to drive the user experience – in other words, getting prospects to visit the new Office 2007 website to view demos or download a trial version of the software. A series of short films on the site form the beginning of a viral campaign that Bondi said will feature shorter, 15-second clips on YouTube and other video portals.

Ick Alert: In-Text Ads Gaining Steam

Those annoying in-text ads that you normally find only on gaming and other niche sites are making a comeback in mainstream media, appearing on sites including Fox News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Popular Mechanics, the Wall Street Journal reports. You’ve no doubt seen them: double-underlined words in an article that, when you mouse over them, pop up a contextual ad. These insidious ad types represent the most blatant of journalistic church-state violations and should be banned immediately from our culture. 

Online Ad Sales Continue to Surge

Good post by David Churbuck on this week’s news from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers that Internet ad revenues reached an estimated $4.2 billion for the third quarter, a new record.  The announcement, of course, kicked off the usual debate over whether those 30% year-to-year growth rates are sustainable. Merrill Lynch believes so, at least for the short term, as it raised its growth estimates for Q4 from 27% to 30%.

With more ad dollars being poured into search, video, social networking and mobile, we’re just scratching the surface of the potential for the online ad market. eMarketer predicts spending on video ads on the Web will grow 89% next year, while still accounting for only 4.2% of all Internet ad spending. But Internet advertising remains a small slice of total media spending – just 8.2% this year in the case of B2B marketers. eMarketer pegs online’s contribution at 5.7% of all media spending for 2006, well behind television, direct mail, newspapers and radio. So as dollars continue to shift from traditional media to online, there’s no reason to think the growth rates will slow anytime soon.  And as Churbuck points out, these trends don’t take into account the new online ad models that have yet to emerge:

Behavioral models, such as those promoted by Tacoda; or RSS models such as Federated’s, give a bit more precision and reduce the “gross” to “less gross” but the industry is still waiting for a way to monetize the long tail and give some economic value to engagement.

I can’t predict the next big thing in advertising, but will assume the next Bill Gross is working on the breakthrough that will start the cycle all over again. That assumption may be like wishing for a pony for Christmas, but I believe it is a shift in models, not the rise of new mediums — ie video — that will drive the continued growth.

Busting a Nut

Scobleizer has a brief post on a new service for inserting contextual ads in web video. The company launching the service,, calls the ads “walnuts”, which are basically keyword-driven text ads that appear inside a video.  I’m not a big fan of most contextual ads; just because I watch a clip of Sunday night’s World Series game doesn’t mean I want to buy a Tigers’ cap or a jar of pine tar. At its worst, contextual advertising ventures beyond annoying into the distasteful; consider the turpentine ads placed next to a recent CNN video on a mother forcing her pregnant daughter to drink turpentine. Ouch, babe.

Content: Quality vs. Clicks

Interesting discussion going on here and here about SEM, link farms and the value of quality content. I’m an old-school news guy, so I’ve always argued for top-shelf editorial as a difference-maker for publishing companies. But in a market fueled by page views and unique visitors, it’s tougher to make that case these days. The “content lite” strategies of SEM “seagulls” (as David Churbuck cleverly calls them) is a chilling reminder of the devaluation of original, quality editorial.

I still believe content is king, but I also understand that it’s not enough to pay the bills in the digital world. For many media companies, the pendulum has swung fully on the side of driving online traffic (and revenues) through SEO and SEM – quality be damned – but I’m convinved that long term, there has to be a better balance between relevance and quality. The lesson applies not just to media companies; any marketer must understand that without good content, the message won’t stick.