Online news is like fast food -- served fast, hot and 24/7. The hunger for news -- online and off -- is as insatiable as news organizations' willingness to feed that appetite, and to deliver to advertisers the marketing equivalent of super-sizing. The dual nature of online and offline media at CNN, MSNBC, New York Times and Wall Street Journal attracts advertisers who see it as the perfect combo.
Marketers salivate over online news' demographics and sheer volume -- nearly 70 percent of Americans who go online get news online. That’s 80 to 105 million people, according to The State of News Media 2004, an annual report on American journalism.
It’s not luck that attracts readers to an online news site. It’s strategic and integrated marketing by media owners that uses the sites' offline counterparts -- television, cable or newspaper - to drive traffic online. News site publishers have become marketers selling themselves by what they do best and whom they bring to the table -- the all-important demographics.
For advertisers there’s a wealth of opportunity on the news sites. They can choose from traditional display units (banners, skyscrapers, buttons and classified listings) and brick-and-click combination packages. Or they can use innovative units and ad models like those offered through the NYTimes.com -- "surround" sessions, half-page ads, behavioral targeting and sponsored archives.
Verizon, for example, has been committed and consistent for two and half years with its online advertising on NYTimes.com, says Julie Weitzner, Verizon's manager of media services. The missing link in the past for Verizon was tracking -- but that's not an issue with NYTimes.com. Weitzner says the company sees the most efficiency online based on cost per acquisition and highest customer retention.
Verizon uses both print and online versions of The New York Times, but increased its online budget about 20 percent this year over last after realizing a solid return on investment and a cost savings over print. Verizon uses NYTimes.com to target small business owners for its DSL product, for example. It keeps a continuous online advertising presence for some products and incorporates a variety of ad types: home page take-overs, roadblocks, day-part targeting and banners.
Who is this audience?
Online news publishers’ selling points for advertisers are the same selling points they use to lure consumers -- with the added bonus of demographics that match advertisers' dream hits.
At NYTimes.com, Slack says it offers consumers the insight and analysis of its print sister -- The New York Times -- combined with breaking news, functionality and tools that users expect of the Web. For the trade, she says that makes the site a good place to reach the Influentials audience, since 50 percent of NYTimes.com users are Influentials compared to 15 percent of the general online audience. The audience breaks down as: mean age of 44, 46 percent female, mean income of $86,150, 74 percent college graduates, 75 percent have the site bookmarked, and 33 percent use it more than 20 days a month.
MSNBC has positioned itself as a leader in original journalism and breaking news, leveraging journalistic strengths of NBC News and the technology of Microsoft to cover a wide-range of topics meaningful to at-work audiences, says Cherylynne Crowther, vice president of marketing and communications. Its readership is high-income, highly-educated and professional/managerial. The site offers sponsorships of sections and sub-sections with brand advertisers. JC Penney’s sponsored the recent launch of the expanded 'Today show site. Sponsorships can include a standing link on the selection and an interstitial ad.
WSJ.com is selling content. It competes on its reputation as a respected and valued brand, and by constantly updating news and offering archives with in-depth research on 30,000 companies that a traditional newspaper can’t provide, says Randy Kilgore, vice president of The Wall Street Journal Online. In addition, WSJ.com's demographics include 54 percent top management, 26 percent with C-level job titles, 93 percent who research products/services online, $215,600 average household income, $1.6 million average household net worth, average age 49, and 34 minutes per day on site.
Kilgore says WSJ online offers display advertising with one large ad unit per screen view. He says the company excels at smart targeting solutions that focus on behavioral targeting, looking at user habits. WSJ online launched Interest-Based Targeting (IBT), allowing advertisers to reach subscribers who have shown an interest in a particular area of news coverage (business, personal technology, travel, automotive, investments, health, and leisure). Computer Associates International, Inc. was the first software advertiser to use IBT. Kilgore says audience search is the next evolution in behavioral targeting that offers a new way for advertisers and publishers to validate the quality of an audience throughout a campaign. It also offers Total Journal, an integrated ad opportunity for B2B advertisers.
Scot Safon, CNN's senior vice president of marketing and promotions, says CNN created the category of 24/7 connection 25 years ago and continues to build on that brand with more news gathering resources in more places around the world than any other news organization. Its affluent readership includes a majority of college graduates, ages 25 to 54 with an average household income of $80,000-plus. Advertisers will find that CNN aggressively uses the larger IAB-sized ads as well as a combination of banners and sponsored links. It also offers a roadblocks for sponsors. A roadblock uses a different homepage layout with larger ad sizes above the fold that are all owned by one advertiser for a day. Safon says CNN is getting great feedback from the ad community on this product.
Online news sites have worked hard for advertiser recognition, employing the usual suspects to market themselves: media buys/ad buys on other Web sites, sponsorships, distribution deals, house advertising online and offline, list brokers, key word searches, and search engine cost-for-click buys. At NYTimes.com, for example, Michele Slack, director of marketing and operations, says its online marketing budget represents 45 percent and offline marketing with print, radio and events represents about 25 percent of the marketing budget.
The things that works to drive the audience back and forth between the online and offline properties has a dollar appeal to advertisers, in that it increases traffic. MSNBC and NBC use headline links, in-show promotions such as on the 'Today Show' or 'Dateline NBC'. A personalization feature on MSNBC.com helps drive frequency, as do a variety of newsletters, Crowther says. Integrated and interactive programs -- 'Today Show Throws a Wedding' or 'Question of the Day' -- also drive traffic between the online and offline properties.
CNN funnels users into services that CNN offers. Safon notes that a significant database helps market services and programming via email, and member offerings to deepen user loyalties to the CNN brand. Funnel methods at the New York Times include the tag line "in print and online" so readers know that services like JobMarket are available in both media. One goal ,Slack says, is to leverage NYTimes.com’s audience base to drive home delivery subscriptions to the newspaper. It works -- increasing subscriptions by more than 250,000 during the past two years.
News sites offer contextual ads, too. At NYTimes.com they are separated from the editorial content and clearly labeled as advertising. The site does not use intelliTXT or other advertising models that place links within editorial content of the online site. MSNBC works with Kanoodle for contextual search advertising, providing links of relevant merchandise on story pages. WSJ online uses Overture. CNN.com is in the process of launching contextual links provided by Overture and has had Search advertising in place since mid-2003.
So what's the big headline for marketers about news sites? They offer loyal, desirable and engaged audiences who visit with a purpose. And because these news organizations actively drive users back and forth between the online and offline versions of their brands, they provide a variety of creative and effective ways to drive traffic and sales for advertisers.