It's not easy to succeed in advertising. First, you've got to understand the product and/or the brand. Next, you've got to craft the strategy for communicating that understanding to the right people. Then you've got to implement that communications strategy by plunking down sizable amounts of money for advertising slots on specific media. And finally, you've got to analyze and interpret the results of all that spending and figure out how to tweak the whole shebang to make it work better.
In an effort to make life a little easier, we've assembled a panel willing to share some of their accumulated experience and wisdom regarding that third phase: plunking down money for specific advertising slots.
In a world where most advertisers have learned well the lesson of Prometheus, who was punished with chains and daily torture for giving his knowledge of fire to mankind, we've found a few heroes who will not only talk about categories of websites that are their best places to advertise online, but will actually name names.
Our panel participants include:
- Stefan Bardega, director of digital strategy, MediaCom/BeyondInteraction.com, a global integrated planning and buying agency for international clients such as VW group and T-Mobile.
- Steve Swasey, vice president, corporate communications, Netflix, a game-changing company that reinvented the way people rent movies at home.
- Greg March, GMD, Weiden + Kennedy
This is what they told us:
An obvious play is Yahoo, which works very well for many advertisers. That's why the company typically sells out its Christmas inventory months before the holiday season arrives. If you're a retailer offering a weekend sale and you want to reach a large number of people in a short time, pick up a whole page in Yahoo, or buy every impression on the site for a fixed period of time. In the U.K., 8 million people will see your message the first day; in the U.S., upwards of 20 million.
One feature that sets Yahoo apart from other advertising buys is its advanced approach to segmenting visitors. Like most other sites, it factors in the obvious considerations like the previous content the user has been browsing and recent searches the user has conducted. But Yahoo also applies proprietary algorithms that seek to measure the intensity of a user's interest in a topic, and it offers indications of how close the user might be to making a purchase decision.
MSN is another household name among websites, and it can be a great buy when you want to develop a wide reach in a very short period of time. For example, suppose you are trying to launch a new product and your strategy is to hit as many people as possible, something you might try to accomplish is a TV-style broadcast campaign. MSN can be a great online buy for this classic strategy, cost-effectively providing exposure of your advertising messages to massive numbers of unique visitors in a single day.
Speaking of TV, the websites of many broadcast outlets have shown themselves to be very effective for certain kinds of campaigns. These sites are generally built around video (or, to a lesser extent, audio) content from their offline broadcast properties, and they typically offer preroll, postroll and sometimes midroll advertising slots.
At this point, all the major print and broadcast properties have ventured online, as part of their strategy of encouraging people to consume their content through a range of different media. Experience shows this category of sites to be perfect partners within cross-platform campaigns, where advertisers are trying to distribute coordinated creative materials across print, broadcast, online and possibly other media, as a way of hitting extra hard on a particular message.
Social networking sites present very important opportunities for advertisers who are willing to play ball with their audiences. These sites are in the business of aggregating what many experts are calling "naturally forming communities," many of which will voluntarily coalesce around particular, narrowly specific content and interests. These social networking sites attract a generally younger crowd of people who are unusually receptive and who tend to be more interested in self expression than the average online consumer. Advertisers that are willing to give up absolute control over their brand and their messaging can learn to leverage these communities by opening themselves to, and engaging with, these like-minded groups of people.
Different social networking sites tend to have different strengths and weaknesses, in part attributable to their differing origins, functionality and perceived images. For example, MySpace reaches a lot more people that some other social networking sites, and also gives its users more control over their own pages. This results in the site attracting large numbers of people who are comfortable with a higher degree of self-expression and a deeper level of interpersonal communication.
In addition, MySpace began by offering independent musicians and bands a place to make themselves known to larger audiences, and that has carried through its growth, which makes it particularly suitable for advertisers in the music industry.
Facebook has its own strengths for advertisers, including allowing deep access to very granular niches where you can find people who will be deeply concerned with a subject that relates to your brand or product. You can instantly find out how many Facebook users meet your interest-group criteria, such as "living in London" and also "interested in Britney Spears."
On the other hand, Facebook is less flexible than some other social networks when it comes to meeting special needs of advertisers. Ad units are heavily standardized, video advertising is locked out and you can't skin your own page on Faceback as you can on MySpace and Bebo.
"People.com" is often said to be more like the industry gossip magazine. It's full of what they're wearing and who's marrying whom, while "ew.com" is usually considered to be more of an entertainment industry newsletter, providing information in a more "work-oriented" context. Knowing who you want to reach and what message you want to convey, you can pick and choose among the strengths and weaknesses of various sites.
Another effective media property is TMZ, which attracts millions of unique visitors each month to its eclectic mix of user-generated, celebrity-oriented videos.
Similarly, Disney is working hard to serve the interests and needs of parents -- particularly mothers -- as well as children. With an innovative social network component, this site has extended the average time "family-oriented" people spend with its content.
Veoh at first looked like a YouTube clone, but recent arrangements to provide high quality content, along with heavy investment from entertainment "wunderkinds" have now made VeohTV into a realistic media buy. This site's recent launch of a behavioral targeting system that tracks video viewing patterns for more than 28 million visitors offers exciting possibilities for advertisers who want to deliver branded ads mixed with highly relevant content to any of a broad range of lifestyle and special-interest segments.
Discovery.com is increasing its audience appeal on the strength of full-length episodes of popular TV series, which it makes available on demand. At the same time, this site still offers user-generated content that is hard to turn off. As a result, Discovery.com has attracted and held a devoted fan base that appears to be growing steadily.
Digg is a community site that aggregates some of the most interesting content on the web and serves it up to the coveted young male demographic. What's more, you'll see the distinctive "Digg It" icon on thousands of other sites, encouraging both consumers and advertisers to take notice and consider a visit.
Imeem is one of the latest attempts to provide a music-sharing environment that feels good to members of the younger generations. This site's loyal audience is growing rapidly, and seems unlikely to be in jeopardy from angry record labels, which have shown more inclination to negotiate with Imeem and support the site, rather than try to shut it down. Ad avails are still limited and simple, but its extensive user data has the potential to become a gold mine to savvy marketers.
There are some classic approaches to media buying, too. For example, banners on the websites that your target audiences visit frequently are well suited to drive last-minute purchases -- for airline tickets, weekend vacations, impulse items and the like. A clear message and a short-term offer can interact with a prospect's well-established desire to trigger an immediate purchase decision.
Buying search results on relevant terms is a good way to drive specific actions. The difficulty is that at some point you'll have reached most of the people who are making that particular search, and from then on you'll start to experience diminishing returns, cutting into the efficiency of your buys.
WOM tends to be most important for restaurants, hotels, luxury brands and other products or services where reputation and expectation are important elements within a prospect's consideration set. Campaigns for these brands and products should therefore seek to generate and build on WOM at least as much as they should seek to drive clickthroughs and conversions.
For entertainment properties like movies and TV, online video samples can be most compelling because they actually give the target audience a chance to sample the finished product.
Advertisers aiming for a certain level of authenticity should look to move their media buys toward the far end of the long tail. This is because the larger sites tend to attract a very large but general audience, compared with extreme niche sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which attract more hardcore and knowledgeable segments. If you know who is sitting at the center of your bullseye, you can look for the sites with the "pure voices" that attract and hold the attention of those segments. Not only does the web contain specific sites that specialize in attracting the more specialized audiences for almost any advertising strategy, but prominent ad networks -- horizontal and vertical -- have inked deals with many of these sites and can help you grab their avails at reasonable prices.
Even though there are many successful sites busily carving out their special niches on the internet, our panelists tend to dislike the notion of touting particular websites as "absolutely" better than other sites for advertisers. They repeatedly made the point that every time you buy media, you do so in accordance with a strategy, and that in every case the strategy is probably to some degree unique (or, to put this another way: you probably wouldn't run the same campaign the same way twice). Based on the strategy, creative will be judged good or bad, messaging will be judged good or bad and the effectiveness and appropriateness of buying avails on a particular site will also look like a good or bad idea.
What's more, there is no substitute for knowing the relevant sites really well and aligning your choices as closely as you can with your strategy.
As they would do with any medium, buyers of online advertising consider reach, prominence and effectiveness. But unlike other media, online buyers have the opportunity to benefit from continual testing of their strategies and their creative, as well as the sites and the specific availabilities they contract for, and to continually make changes in an effort to upgrade the effectiveness of their spend. A site that promises a better concentration of a certain demographic or behavioral profile can be tested, and in short order the results can be compared with the results of other dollar allocations.
One bit of wisdom that kept emerging from our panel is that virality, or WOM, is very often the best way for an advertiser to spread a message. Despite the vast sums spent annually for online, TV, print, direct mail and other advertising media, WOM always ranks near the top of the pile when it comes to driving conversions. For this reason, WOM considerations should form an integral part of every online and offline campaign.
Robert Moskowitz is a consultant and author.