Hordes of power-suit-clad dot-commers swarmed the hotel's hallways, conference rooms and elevators in hopes of grabbing business cards and gaining insight on how to capitalize on a rapidly growing industry. People packed conference rooms for sessions on consumer-generated media and online best practices.
In one, Jonah Peretti, founding partner of the Huffington Post, detailed a viral e-mail campaign about his quest to wear customized Nikes with the word "sweatshop" emblazoned on the heel.
Events that engage the industry
"I ended up on 'The Today Show' to talk about it, but I was wondering, 'Why isn't anybody here speaking on this topic from a professional level?'" Mr. Peretti recalled. "It revived the idea of an event that could engage people in the marketing and advertising world. Soon, I had marketers and advertisers say, 'Hey, could you do that for my product?'"
Advertisers are trying to reach audiences on a large scale through MySpace and YouTube, but the trend that the industry will be seeing in the coming months and years is a focus on smaller, community-based platforms, said Bob Desena, director-active engagement at Mediaedge:cia. "There seems to be this sense of, if you can't do something with 3 million people, is there still lots of engagement?"
As Roy deSouza, CEO, Zedo, pointed out during a panel that afternoon focusing on the ubiquitous topic of Web 2.0, smaller online communities that didn't exist at this time last year are already making major impact. Social-networking hubs such as the consumer-written restaurant reviews of Yelp, and Dogster, a canine-centric version of Friendster, are helping define the new movement by staying out of their users way and letting them provide editorial content.
"It's not about the technology. It's about making the kind of site that allows users to talk with friends," Mr. deSouza said.
What will keep the sites relevant, said co-panelist Charles Buchwalter, senior VP-industry solutions at Nielsen/NetRatings, is continuously surveying users.
"What addicts people [to a site] is feeling they're on the cutting edge," he said. "Something that makes users say I'm really glad to be here. But they're very fickle. What might be important to them this month could change next month."
The Advertising Research Foundation's panel to introduce its new 400-plus page book, titled the "Online Playbook," had a waiting line to get in. (Apparently research panels at a web conference are to online execs what the cast of "Desperate Housewives" is to TV buyers at the upfront.)
Giovanni Fabris, VP-international media director at McDonald's Corp., lamented that the industry's weakness is not knowing how traditional media and the internet work together in delivering messages. A big part of the problem, said Tom Lynch, VP-marketing integration at ING, is getting all the agencies at the same table. "Nobody's compensated to solve this problem. In fact, they're compensated to not solve the problem."
Eileen Naughton, Google's regional director in New York and a former Time Inc. exec, said that when you consider the sheer number of ads Google serves up to its total searches, its ad-serving network is larger than any U.S. government network. The company's goal, she said, is to take that system architecture to other platforms and "bring efficiency where efficiency doesn't exist." She also said there's an "awful lot of interest at Google" to try to quantify the value of impressions for marketers who are looking to it for branding purposes. She mentioned research would come out next year as Google moves into the display field.
Similarities with ad networks
One session was provocatively titled "Grudge Match: Ad Network Smack Down." Shar VanBoskirk, senior analyst at Forrester Research and a moderator, said she had trouble distinguishing the speakers at a similar panel at the San Francisco AdTech in April. Each panelist's network's website was trumpeting the same technology and data-driven platforms.
"I don't believe there's one partner that's right for everyone just yet," Ms. VanBoskirk said. "No one's saying 'Here's what I want to do.' We're still waiting for that. There's a difference between performance-based and branding networks, and a lot of what you're seeing is still performance-based. You want to be able to give people a choice."
As platforms evolve and the formula for the right online lead is perfected, then we'll start seeing some of these networks consolidate, said panelist Dave Morgan, founder and chairman of Tacoda.
"There's still a lot of advertisers and agencies that aren't being served at the level the medium is capable of," Mr. Morgan said. "The amount of capital available is extraordinary."