EDITOR'S NOTES - by Diane W. Collins

Spoiling the Broth: Why Many Online Ad Agencies Tactics Aren't Working
by Diane W. Collins

You've worked hard as a webmaster to build a site with enough traffic to draw a brief glance from an online advertising agency. After their healthy commission and low CPM rates you're beginning to ask yourself who is working for whom? Then it begins to happen...you notice a disruption in your traffic patterns. You're following the same procedures, your content is still topnotch. What's up? There are cardinal rules of marketing that some online advertising agencies are breaking. Let's take a look.

Cardinal Rule #1: Buyers don't wait. If they can get it faster somewhere else, they will.

Supermarkets understand this very well. When lines start getting long they open up another check stand. Buyers don't wait. Similarly, when you built your web site you built it for speed. If pages didn't download in 20 seconds or less you knew the user wouldn't stick around. You weighed your graphics and replaced them with text where design would permit. You created your web site with your average user in mind...browser, connection speed, screen resolution, etc. Yet, some advertising agencies are weighing your pages down by placing heavy, rich-media ads on sites and serving them from remote locations. In addition, some agencies use code to inhibit your text download until their ad graphics appear. All methods that slow download times and make users wait.

Here's a common user experience. You enter the URL of your favorite site. The site server is contacted. It, in turn, contacts the ad server. Your favorite site begins to load its information onto your screen. You start to review the text. Meanwhile, the ad server is sending its ad to the page loading onto your computer. The ad server disrupts the download process from your favorite site's server. The text disappears. Annoyed, you mumble something. The ad finally completes the download process from the ad server and the text reloads. You begin to look for the information you were reading before being so rudely interrupted.

What about that text inhibitor mentioned earlier (which in essence is a javascript similar to that used in conjunction with rollover images) used by some online agencies? If a text inhibitor is used the text download at your favorite site is completely blocked until the ad company's rich-media banner can fully load. Result: Your user waits...or does he?

Rule #2: If you build a business around one product and it falters, so will you.

Online advertising agencies have operated on the principle that advertising on the Web is synonymous with banner ads. A few progressive companies have experimented with pop-ups and interstitials. These methods, however, have been employed in an even more intrusive manner than banner ads. This has caused interstitials and pop-ups to be poorly received by the Internet user in general. In addition, as the effectiveness of banner ads has subsided, most online advertising agencies have been slow to employ alternative methods such as opt-in email and the integration of traditional media. Complicating matters further has been the reluctance of ad agencies to recognize the paradigm shift currently taking place in Internet demographics. Many agencies continue to sell banner ads based on an old model. All of these faux pas have contributed to articles being written which question the very usefulness of the Internet as an advertising medium at all! This, of course, is ridiculous. But when you've allowed yourself to be a one product industry and the product falters...well, you get the picture.

Cardinal Rule # 3:If you want to keep the party going dance with all your guests.

Some online advertising agencies have approached the ad sale as though it is one dimensional. What does that mean? They only see one party that needs to be satisfied, the advertiser. The advertising model involves four participants: a company wishing to purchase space (the advertiser), the ad agency (the middleman), the web site selling space (the provider) and the potential viewer (the user). Simply put, the model works like this. The advertiser lays out cash from which the middleman purchases space from the provider. The middleman makes his profit from a commission on the space sold at the provider's site. (This commission usually runs between 50 - 70%...figures that shock the off-line world of advertising!) As long as the provider has the traffic to support the ads the agency continues to "represent " the provider. When traffic drops, so does the provider...right off the list.

There is nothing wrong with the advertising model...well, maybe we could adjust commission structures a bit. The model, itself is common to business. However, what some agencies overlook is the importance of the symbiotic relationship of the parties involved in the model. As we have seen, some online advertising agencies actually employ methods that end up discouraging traffic, methods used to force the viewing of ads. Don't these guys watch TV? Have clicker will travel! When a commercial comes on you switch channels. On the Internet it can get even worse. Advanced users currently retaliate with graphic inhibitors also called "banner blockers." These programs block ads from loading. The user never sees them. How long until "banner blockers" are generally employed by the average user? How long until the party ends? This is what happens when you don't dance with all your guests.

The advertising client relationship is not one-dimensional. It involves four parties, all of whom deserve the advantages that a win/win relationship provides. The user wants to receive good content quickly and will "put up" with fast loading banners in order to preserve free access. The webmaster wants ad revenue from his traffic but not at the expense of future page impressions. The advertiser wants to get the word out and to sell products and services. The ad agency wants a commission for services rendered. The successful advertising relationship requires that all four parties needs are met.

Solution: In my world, no one was ever allowed to point out a problem without offering a solution. So here it is. Always think long term. Build relationships, don't burn them out. Look at all parties involved in a situation. Discover what they want. Find a way within the confines of your own moral character to deliver.

I'll never forget a management seminar for marketing executives that I attended 15 years ago. It was taught by those who had been in the game long enough to know. Experience is a marvelous teacher. One theme has stuck all this time. "You can get everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

February 3, 1999

My thanks to Zig Ziglar, whose understanding of the sales relationship made him a master! Secrets of Closing the Sale, Zig Ziglar, published by Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984
Diane W. Collins, President, Marketingweb.com


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