Now, publishers must show that the Web is effective as a brand advertising vehicle.
Preliminary results from a major study of banner advertising released last week seem to support the cause.
BRAND AWARENESS INCREASED
The study, conducted on behalf of the Internet Advertising Bureau by MBinteractive, a unit of researcher Millward Brown International, shows that awareness of brands participating in the study increased 5%, on average.
In addition, 49% of study participants said they recalled seeing a tested ad banner on a particular site.
"There's been a lot of question about whether or not these [ads] are byte-size billboards or brand builders," said Rex Briggs, VP of MBinteractive. "This study, I think, provides the most definitive proof to date" of the Web's brand-building capabilities.
The study comes at a critical time: Web publishers are continuing to grapple with ways to convince marketers to spend more money on online advertising.
Last week, the IAB reported advertisers spent $129.5 million online in the first quarter, up only 18% from the fourth quarter's $109.5 million.
Online advertising grew 45% between the third and fourth quarters last year. The IAB attributed the slowed growth to the traditional softness of media markets in the first quarter.
Publishers also have become increasingly bearish on online ad revenue forecasts.
In a recent IAB survey, 45% of online publishers said they believe 1997 revenues will be between $500 million and $600 million. Some analysts had predicted 1997 revenues would soar to more than $1 billion.
TESTING AD RECALL
For its study, MBinteractive randomly sampled Web surfers at 12 different sites to generate a 25,000-name database. The surfers were asked if they were interested in participating in a survey. If they said yes, they were taken to a page where they filled out a form containing basic demographic information.
They were then returned to the page they came from, where they were shown either a test ad or a control ad.
The next day, the surfers received e-mail messages asking them to participate in a Web-based survey testing their recall of advertising they had seen on the site the day before. They were also asked their opinion of Web advertising in general.
Participating sites included Pathfinder, Lycos and ESPN SportsZone.
The preliminary results are based on 6,000 responses; Mr. Briggs said he expected to have 10,000 respondents by the end of last week.
WEB ADVERTISING WINS APPROVAL
The study is significantly more ambitious than one previously conducted by Millward Brown and HotWired, which drew on a pool of only 1,200 responses.
The new research confirms the earlier study's finding that banner ads can increase brand awareness. Although average awareness increased 5%, awareness of one advertiser's product, a new airline business class offering, increased 50% in the test group vs. the control group.
Survey participants said they generally approve of Web advertising. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "I hate it" and 5 being "It's great," only 16% rated Web advertising a 1 or a 2, while 53% rated it 4 or 5.