Interactive

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Enough with the whining over how little traditional marketers spend on digital media. This is the year the Web needs to show marketers its muscles. After the last couple of years as bottom-feeders on the media food chain, digital-marketing and media players will go the distance in 2003 to prove the efficacy of a medium that continues to confound even the savviest marketers.

First steps have included: cross-media optimization studies with major marketers such as McDonald's Corp. illustrating the relationship between off- and online media; a much-needed move toward standardizing online ad formats; undertaking brand-effectiveness research; launching a brand-awareness campaign; and creating an online archive of interactive best practices. The Interactive Advertising Bureau pledges at least six cross-media studies in 2003 with marketers such as Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corp., among others.

A slight rebound

Most Web players say that the first and second quarters of 2002 marked the bottom of the market. Apart from America Online's bleak advertising outlook and daunting business challenges, signs are emerging that the interactive industry is rebounding, at least a little. For example, online researcher eMarketer projects a 6.3% increase for online media in 2003, exceeding a 4.7% increase expected for overall ad spending. The projection is an aggregate of 10 estimates for total ad spending in the U.S.

Another positive sign is the market for paid Web content for the third quarter of 2002 jumped 105% over the same period in 2001, according to a study by the Online Publishers Association and ComScore Networks. In addition, a study of marketers by DoubleClick and Greenfield Online found that 51% of those surveyed expect interactive budgets to be higher in 2003 with 43% anticipating flat budgets and 6% predicting decreases.

Here's a soothsayer's look at the key trends for interactive in 2003:

* Creative: Cinematic-trailer-like streaming audio and video and episodic creative will dominate. Rich-media usage will increase; ad sizes will continue to standardize.

* Broadband: As Internet at-work studies have shown, consumers favor the "always on" connection at work and are likely to enjoy it at home as well-an advertiser's dream.

* Paid content and subscriptions: Look for leaders in the space (Yahoo!, Real Networks, gaming and entertainment sites) to define the premium-services category with exclusive content and a focus on customer service. Experimentation with premium pay services will be the order of the day, as publishers attempt to figure out what consumers will pay for.

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