Interactive Advertising Goes Retro

Interactive media has gone retro, and it’s long overdue. They say the classics never go out of style, and the same can be said for good old-fashioned media fundamentals. While it’s still very stimulating to discuss wireless advertising and experiment with complex targeting technologies, we’re now seeing more interactive media professionals talking about GRPs (gross rating points). A couple of years ago, you would have expected an interactive guru to think that stood for “Generate Real-Time Platforms.”

The medium has matured, and so have those who orchestrate it. We are beginning to understand that the only way we’re going to make interactive advertising work is to apply traditional media strategies and benchmark them against traditional media metrics.

Media buyers are beginning to think about online media in terms of audience, rather than just impressions and click-throughs. Committees have been assembled to discuss and collaborate on formulas and processes, and research vendors are offering tools to help advertisers arrive at a GRP calculation. These positive developments should assist us all in converting the remaining non-believers, and should convince advertisers to allocate a greater portion of their budgets to interactive media.

Where Are the Budgets?

Speaking of budgets, where are they? Media budgets have grown slim, and the advertising that is in the marketplace is under a magnifying glass as clients demand results. The promise of interactive has always been that it is the most accountable media vehicle, allowing results to be monitored in real-time. However, we may have dug ourselves a deep hole with that promise, as advertisers have seen click-through rates slide over the last four years.

While click-through rates remain a key indicator of user interaction for direct marketers, it is vital that we also begin to quantify audience delivery for online media. A standardized method of calculating an online GRP would allow us to do this, creating a more accurate and realistic standard of accountability.

Turn Toward Traditional

Traditional agencies are best poised to apply old-school media strategies to the online world. By now, most large, traditional agencies have developed an interactive capability as part of their full-service media arsenal. A traditional agency is fueled by an arsenal of experienced media professionals, well versed in all media disciplines. They have the advantage of being media agnostic. At the start of the planning process, an agency can focus on the inherent strengths of all media vehicles.

While it is important to be an evangelist for the interactive space, there’s a lot to be said for someone who has an unbiased, holistic view on how various media can work together to harmonize a media plan. Someone with a historical perspective on a client’s past offline campaigns can help extend successful media strategies by translating them online.

Online Extension

For example, if local newspapers have been successful at making the phone ring, then why not test online local newspapers? If display ads in yellow pages make sense, then experiment with keyword buys on search engines. Are you consistently incorporating direct mail into the mix? Then consider trying direct e-mail lists or newsletters. The common mistake that many advertisers make is force-fitting an inconsistent Internet strategy into their media mix.

Traditional agencies are also well positioned to work with cross-media companies like AOL Time Warner or Viacom Plus. A traditional agency can dissect a cross-media package, selecting only the valuable components while abandoning elements that are not consistent with the overarching media strategy.

Stand and Deliver

Multimedia giants have yet to fully deliver on their promise of fully integrated packages. More open communication between advertisers, agencies and publishers should help make the dream a reality. If the publisher receives direction to develop an integrated package, an agency must put itself in position to react effectively to the package. This means developing a well-structured process for evaluating, negotiating and executing a multimedia buy.

So I challenge all Web experts to roll up their sleeves and take a crack at applying the GRP and other old-school media practices to “new” media. Let the offline minds brainstorm with the online minds. Put the theories into practice, and help us all prove to advertisers that a portion of their media budgets belong online.

James Kiernan has been in Interactive Advertising since 1998. He began his career at OgilvyOne, where he worked on the IBM and Ameritrade accounts. For the last three years, James has been at FCBi (Foote, Cone & Belding) working on a number of accounts, including Chase, Merck, Tropicana and most recently HP (previously Compaq).

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