Advertising agencies are building brand experiences, sales promotions houses do games to drive in-store trial, PR agencies are building blogger outreach toolkits and DM agencies launch campaign microsites driving name acquisition and conversion to sales. The message has been heard -- everyone realises digital marketing is important and everyone is proposing a microsite as part of their work.
The problem is that websites are persistent.
After the campaign has grown old and both the clients and the agencies moved on, the microsite remains. The flash animations play even if the promotion has long ago closed. The copy is served up even if the headline has nothing to do with the current campaign running. The webservers don't know the online advertising impressions were all used up months ago and people aren't clicking through as part of a "consistent campaign experience." Someone asks them to display their message and they do.
And of course they are indexed by the search engines, which is the real issue.
People more and more use search to navigate the web, and even if the rankings consider the "age" of site, it isn't sufficient to allow old microsites to sink down to oblivion. When you search on a given brand name -- being clearly infatuated with that brand and wanting to learn more -- you are likely to find five or six or fifteen different microsites all vying for your attention.
Consider Axe - or Lynx, as it's known in the UK. Great brand and a big supporter of online marketing. A recent UK Google search on "Axe" gives you The Axe Effect, the Canadian Axe site, Axe Feather, Axe Belgium, Axe Vice, AxeFantasy and a couple of Bom Chica Wah Wah variants – mostly in French.
Or Stella Artois. It has Stella Artois, Stella Artois – the Official Site the Artois Championships, Stella Artois – Le Defi, Stella Artois – L'etranger, Studio Artois, and La Famille Artois. You may think the first two are simply domain variants for the hyphenated challenged, but actually the first is a linking page bringing together three campaign microsites the official site has decided to ignore.
After 12 years, we do know the cause of this. Work is project based and budgets are small. Agencies need to demonstrate digital skills and undersell the online extensions to their work to make them easy to buy. There isn't clear ownership inside companies because it cuts across disciplines and geographies. No one wants to stifle innovation and creativity. If a central platform is too restrictive, it is straightforward for teams to create new domains hosted in some other location.
After 12 years, we also know that internet marketing is here to stay which means we need to stop the madness and think about the user experience and the brand.
So a final question: Do you think the loss of the page metaphor will save us by moving the campaign focus to expandable display advertising and allowing the websites to settle down as consistent brand beacons? Stop the microsites! Teach all of the agencies Flex and send them off with media budgets to save the magazines that are moving online!
John Baker is managing partner at OgilvyOne. .