A few weeks ago in this space, a sales executive for Turner Interactive claimed marketers were spending too much money on their own Web sites when they could get better value spending it on Internet advertising.
In other words, Mr. Marketer, you should leave Web site construction to the content experts (like Turner Interactive's CNN.com and many other high-end media sites), and then use their traffic to get your message out. This is the traditional media model, and it completely misinterprets what's happening with advertisers on the Web.
First of all, the notion that marketers are building sites primarily for branding and advertising purposes is already obsolete.
It was perhaps true way back in '95, but something much more significant is happening now. Leading advertisers aren't putting up billboards on the Web; they're creating fully functioning businesses.
BUILD AN ACTUAL STORE
The analogy is not to building a new TV campaign (as CNN and other media companies might prefer) but to building an actual store, complete with employees, inventory, cash registers, vendors, partners, customer service and the usual assortment of back-end support services--a real business in virtual space.
Granted, many companies are doing some direct marketing and branding on their sites. But they're also building out extranets to suppliers, intranets for employees, and a variety of sales, service and upselling links to their customers.
Moreover, savvy advertisers aren't seeking traditional "entertainment" or "content programming" on their sites anyway. Advertising Age's own consumer research over the past five years has consistently shown that when consumers go out on the Web, their primary goal isn't amusement but information.
And when they go to a company's home page, they are looking primarily for product and business information.
The best advertisers use their Web sites to offer just that kind of experience. For example, on General Mills' site for its Betty Crocker brand, there is neither traditional entertainment nor traditional advertising. Instead, the site is extremely service- and relationship-oriented, offering recipes, menus and so on.
It attracts 400,000 visitors a month, for 9 million page impressions; an astonishing 5 million Betty Crocker recipes have been downloaded.
How are you going to accomplish that kind of customer relationship with an ad banner on someone else's media site?
For industries better suited to the Web than a package goods marketer like General Mills, the issue is framed even more starkly. Look at financial services companies, whose online businesses are indistinguishable from their businesses downtown. Or at the automotive industry, which advertises heavily in print and on TV, but actually sells cars on the Web.
The bottom line is that asking advertisers to buy banners on high-traffic sites instead of expanding their own sites is like asking McDonald's to keep spending on TV but stop spending on restaurants.
SOMETHING MEANINGFUL TO MARKET
So does this mean ad spending on the Web is doomed always to take a back seat to site-building?
Not at all; what seems more likely is that as more and more advertisers build out their online businesses, they will then have something meaningful to market on the Net. That's when advertising on the Web will really take off.
Think about it: If you're the local newspaper in town, there's not much money if there's only a few businesses around. But let a few big malls open, along with some car dealerships, some travel agencies, maybe even a tattoo parlor and piercing joint and hey--you're swimming in money.
All CNN.com and other big media companies have to do is be patient; their time is coming.
David Klein is associate publisher/editor of the Ad Age Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.