Five years after FAST summit

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It was two days meant to shape the online advertising world.

By launching the Future of Advertising Stakeholders summit in August 1998, Procter & Gamble Co. hoped to play the kind of seminal role in interactive advertising it had with radio and TV generations before. So it invited 200 leaders from agencies, media, industry associations and client companies--including competitors--to its Cincinnati headquarters.

Nearly five years later, some of the issues FAST raised remain unsettled. The follow-up organization FAST spawned disappeared quietly in 2001 as much of the online ad industry collapsed more noisily. And online media is only a $10 million drop in P&G's $2 billion U.S. media bucket.

Still, key FAST players (see story at right) say the effort achieved or at least made progress on all its goals, and some would like to reassemble to tackle unfinished business-primarily spam and its effect on advertising online and offline.

"FAST espoused the right first principles-consumer acceptance, control and privacy," said Denis Beausejour, former VP-marketing at P&G who led FAST. "The impact of each task force could have been better, but with distributed power and access that characterizes the Web, perhaps we were hoping for too much from the old `command and control' mode."

NOT LIKE TV IN EARLY DAYS

FAST aimed to get consumers to accept interactive advertising, develop better ad models, make buying online media easier and safeguard privacy. It made progress in most areas, said Michael Donahue, exec VP-member services of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, including getting online publishers to try formats beyond banners and buttons faster.

But "when it came to making the buy easier, we still haven't done that," he said. He's part of a new committee seeking a standard for online media impressions, led by Adam Gerber, recently hired by Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group as senior VP-strategy and innovation to work primarily on the P&G account.

P&G has learned a lot since FAST about how consumers use the Internet, said Vivienne Bechtold, global marketing director and top interactive marketing executive at P&G, "and one of the things we've learned was that online advertising is not the big idea."

P&G today sees the Internet more as a relationship-marketing tool and way to test and disseminate information on new products. She believes the various industry associations are best suited to handle ongoing interactive ad issues.

Most marketers now see the Internet much like P&G does, said Norm Lehoullier, managing director of Grey Global Group's Grey Interactive. "The perception [at FAST] was that we were at a point like television circa 1948," he said. "Clearly, that was not the case."

Pete Blackshaw, former P&G interactive brand manager who organized FAST, says it fizzled "from too many players, including the key companies behind FAST, prematurely retreating or shifting emphasis to immediate-not future-[return on investment]."

Now chief marketing officer of Intelliseek's PlanetFeedback consumer feedback service, he sees a need for a similar effort to combat spam and other intrusive online ad forms, which his research shows sour consumers on advertising generally.

"I share Pete's belief that this medium is not going to grow until we solve the spam problem," said Mr. Donahue, who thinks reassembling a smaller version of FAST to address spam would be a good idea.

Mr. LeHoullier, Ms. Bechtold and Rich LeFurgy, former FAST chair and general partner of venture firm WaldenVC agree-so long as trade groups lead the charge.

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