Target the Audience or Ride Along With the Content?

OPA Adds Fuel to 'Content Is King' Side of the Debate

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Like nature vs. nurture, the debate between targeting content or audiences is something of a philosophic argument in the marketing world. Some people believe targeting audiences is what matters most -- regardless of where they are browsing online; others believe that the quality and context of the website on which a consumer is targeted matters.

Now, new findings from the Online Publishers Association suggest that content is king: Ads on branded-content websites are more effective than non-branded sites and outpace industry norms in nearly every category.

Greater impact on purchase process
The study, "Improving Ad Performance Online: The Impact of Advertising on Branded Content Sites," ultimately determined that ads on content sites have greater impact on the overall purchase process, including customer awareness, brand awareness, brand consideration, brand preference and purchase intent, especially among the consumer package goods, financial services, technology, telecommunications and travel sectors, giving credence to the idea that audiences are attracted to websites.

"It's an absolute fact with online advertising: environment matters," OPA President Pam Horan said in a statement. "In nearly every category measured, ad effectiveness scores on branded content sites were numerically higher than on the Web in general, on portals or on ad networks."

(Worth noting: The OPA represents the online efforts of numerous branded sites, such as MarthaStewart.com, ABCNews.com and Wall Street Journal Digital, among others.)

Ms. Horan credits audience attraction and the level of trust espoused by established brands for the effectiveness of ads on branded-content sites.

The OPA report used Dynamic Logic's "MarketNorms" data, complied from 3,900 AdIndex surveys of over 6 million people across a dozen industries and hundreds of websites. The MarketNorms database measures ad responses on a wide variety of sites within nearly 30 market categories, collecting data through surveys on sites such as Facebook.com and Hulu.com. According to the OPA, the number of survey respondents in MarketNorms totals around 4 million, and covers more than 2,000 online ad campaigns launched in the past three years through the first quarter of 2008.

Brand favorability, purchase intent
Of the metrics analyzed in the study, OPA notes that branded-content sites make inroads in two of the more notoriously difficult segments: brand favorability and purchase intent. Overall, brand favorability improves 29% over average online advertising. Purchase intent increases 20%. That number spikes further in relation to affluent demographics, to 24% in households with an income of $75,000 or more.

Most notably, "beyond the banner" forms of online advertising -- those that encompass video, sponsorships and rich media -- flourished when placed on branded-content sites, in comparison to traditional destinations. Specifically, sponsorship on branded-content sites were determined to be 42% more effective than the overall MarketNorms average, and 36% more so than on portals.

Some of the larger increases in web traffic are seen in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Results suggested they were 33% more likely to form favorable opinions about advertised brands than when viewing ads on portals. The OPA analysis shows that video advertising on these sites lifted brand awareness 82% over online video advertising averages, brand favorability increased 67%.

"Branded content sites are doing a particularly effective job of delivering results with developing advertising formats, including video advertising and rich media," Ms. Horan said in the statement. "Just as we have seen with offline media, the value of context cannot be underestimated ... a sponsorship on a 'name' site delivers the power of that media brand to the advertiser associated with that content."
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