Getting Rich In Online Advertising

By Dorian Sweet

If you've been in online advertising for the past several years, you know what a bad time can look like in this thriving, vibrant industry. I don't think we've ever returned to the pre-Y2K-party-every-night days of yore. Instead, we've rebounded and become stronger and a little more sober.

Despite that, we may be headed for some familiar times. The financial failures of others are impacting many aspects of advertising and specialized Web experiences. Big budget online productions will feel the weight of the budget-cutting blade soon, if they haven't already.

Does this mean a long siege of "nephew-ware" banners and Web sites until big budgets come back?

What happened to the Internet's consistent rise in media spending? Has the steady, deliberate, and rational growth of the adolescent post-crash online world reached its young adult plateau?

This could be an allegorical moment in the Internet's enigmatic young life. In tough times when there are layoffs, it's last-to-come, first-to-go.

Hopefully marketers with a solid online advertising budget have evolved beyond that idiom. In some ways they have -- they're spending more online than ever before. Just because the spending slows and doesn't flow into online is some measure of the new ad channel's acceptance.

On the other hand, online budgets aren't that big comparatively. So an across-the-board cut in marketing spend is a bit unfair, considering that with the reduction in disposable cash many consumers will spend lots more time in the virtual world.

Apart from selling stuff, this may be the perfect time to build (dare I say it) a brand relationship with the stay-at-home online shut-in.

But how to make the most of that online dollar spend with an ever-imminent shrinking budget? Here are a few ways that might help:

* Look at interactions. When dollars are plentiful, reach and frequency are usually the rule. But now we must think about what got people to interact. Even more, we need to know how many interactions they had with what you created. Each interaction event is an opportunity to delight or deter a user from your brand's intent.

* Evaluate time spent Now ask yourself, if you saw a :30 TV spot 100 times, that would equal five minutes of a repetitive message. So if someone spent five minutes on your rich media ad and had multiple experiences with your brand, would that be the same or better? Time is the gold of the technological world we live in. How it's spent will become the currency we value, no matter what the screen.

* Assess brand relevance Does your brand matter to people online? Are you trying too hard to be a relevant brand to a fickle online audience? This isn't easy to face, but some brands in a depressed economy should stay away from the highly persnickety online user. For example, don't waste someone's time, or your money, selling a floor wax through a rich media experience.

For some, video online will be another place to put the :30 TV spot, and nothing will change that mentality. Trying to make the Internet like TV is short-term thinking as our user base moves from the living room couch and becomes free-agent consumers of all things interesting to them.

The recent financial strife may just separate the wheat from the chaff and encourage innovative use of rich media, rather than the "set-it-and-forget-it" online video advertising we see today.

In difficult times, can we learn more about ourselves as thinkers, marketers, and people? The wow factor may be less important to those under budget constraints and the true application of technology may ultimately matter more than ever. Our financial situation may be the beginning of what we may consider an age of digital enlightenment.

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