OPINION: Waiting for Net perfection lets opportunities slip past

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The Internet already reaches one-quarter of all U.S. households after just five years. But to hear people closest to online these days, you'd think things were really broken. Issues are polarizing the industry and there are a lot of clenched jaws out there.

What's happening is that the next big thing is overshadowing the current best thing. It's the Internet trap and it takes our eyes off the prize. We're in fantastic shape, but the industry is reacting to itself.

"The future is better," the sirens sing, "so don't waste time holding back." "But the future is here," those on the land lament, pushing even harder on what's here now.

Truth is, finding the best of both worlds is probably more helpful. Let's loosen our stances to use what's here and also try what's coming.

Don't wait until it's perfect, because this medium will always upgrade as the technology gets better. Let's take a step back and rationally address the key issues:

Standard creative vs. enhanced creative:

Standard banner ads are effective for communications, increasing purchase intent and generating sales. Can enhanced creative options, such as pop-up ads and streaming audio or video, be even more effective?

Of course they can. But because audiences pay the bills, we can't turn them off with oppressive page-load times that are slowed by special ad technology, or by too many interruptive ads. What to do? Use a mix whenever possible to keep learning, growing. But don't sell the lowly banner short since it has a lot of communications power.

Brand marketing vs. direct marketing:

The Internet is the first multitasking medium. It enables brand sales by improving awareness, product communications and purchase intent (AA, Sept. 22, 1997), and helps drive relationship marketing, direct sales and even customer service. So it's not one thing or the other, but an array of options dependent upon a brand's communications and sales objectives.

Mass marketing vs. one-to-one marketing:

With an audience of more than 35 million, some say the Internet already is a mass market. Targeting is broadly available today by content affinity and past behavior, which is tracked through content viewing, clicks and purchases. It will get better at the user-by-user level. Depending on your objective, online can accomplish both mass and one-to-one goals.

CPM vs. performance pricing publishers:

Online publishers spend a great deal of money to attract and maintain audiences. Cost-per-thousand pricing recognizes that and values the continuum of, brand building through traffic generation. When site sales are possible, a balanced hybrid model makes sense for publishers and advertisers with an up-front CPM paid to reach a valued audience and sharing revenue based on product sales. But cost-per-click deals that don't value audience exposure, and are subject to a brand's image, category interest, product, creative and offer can be too one-sided for publishers. It's crucial that both parties realize value.

Publisher vs. third-party ad serving:

Given all of the ad-supported sites today, agencies and clients are using third-party ad serving to simplify the trafficking of creative and post-buy reporting, instead of letting publishers integrate ads with content as with TV, radio or print.

Use of a third party to insert ads can slow a page or deliver "broken" ad images. We're in the audience business, so when an ad doesn't show, consumers will blame the broken graphic on the publisher. Plus, publishers need to have full control in the management of a client's schedule. Yet third-party serving is here to stay, so fair guidelines need to be established. Part of this fairness should be a publisher's ability to certify a third-party system for use on its service and to use its own audience counts rather than the third-party system.

Ad impressions: Delivery vs. download measurement:

Ad impressions delivered to a browser can easily be measured for both routine and enhanced creative. Some in the industry are asking for a standard that measures beyond delivery to the download of an ad. As technology improves, measuring ads delivered and downloaded onto a user's browser will become widely available. Until then, the industry should use what's here today.

So don't fall into the Internet trap. Perfect is the enemy of the good, and we're much farther along than just good. It's the perfect that can really hurt us.

Rich LeFurgy, is senior-VP of Buena Vista Internet Group and chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau.

Copyright June 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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