In today's exploding interactive universe, one question continues to baffle advertisers: When it comes to positioning my brands in cyberspace, do I call my ad agency or some hot Web shop?
When most advertisers are faced with picking an advertising or marketing communications partner to express their brands on the Net, it is not surprising that they first look to leverage their existing brand stewards, their ad agencies.
After all, they've already spent a great deal of time and money with their agencies, working with them to define and refine their brands. Unfortunately, most traditional agencies are based on a business model that, to date, cannot be easily sustained on the Internet; they are paid based on the media they place. Since most advertisers simply don't spend enough money in cyberspace, usually on the Web, their traditional agencies cannot afford to take this kind of activity with the seriousness it deserves.
Also, most traditional ad agencies are preoccupied with brand awareness and image, and naturally gravitate toward those media which provide them with the most efficient ways to move the needle, via TV or radio or print.
MORE THAN BRAND AWARENESS
But the Web and other digital media, such as CD-ROMs and the commercial online services, are not simply about brand awareness. The Web is the first truly full-service global marketing communications medium. An Internet site can be leveraged not simply to build brand awareness, but to get people to consider a product, stimulate conversion and offer post-sales service and support.
Furthermore, the Net can equally be used to address internal constituencies (via intranets) and to communicate and conduct business with key customers and suppliers (via extranets).
OUT OF AGENCIES' PROVINCE
This is simply not the province of most ad agencies. On the contrary, this has largely been, and continues to be, the province of direct response and sales promotion agencies. It's not just about the brand. It's about e-business and, more specifically, e-commerce.
For this reason, we have seen a major trend over the last year of agencies that are serious about leveraging the Web to do so from within their direct response or sales promotion operations--and that's where it belongs.
A MYOPIC MISSION
This is not to say that Web banners cannot perform a brand building role.
But to focus all of one's attention on this one mission is myopic and inefficient. The single-minded pursuit of the Web as a brand-building tool is akin to telling TV production specialists to get out of the direct response TV business. The medium is simply more robust than that.
A CONTENTIOUS ISSUE
Another reason this issue has been so contentious is because the Web itself is more than just a space in which to place banner ads. Banners have to lead somewhere, and usually they lead to the advertiser's Web site; increasingly more than just a branding opportunity, Web sites are rapidly becoming the cyberspace equivalent to the advertiser's bricks and mortar fulfillment center.
Web development is a little like the iceberg that sank the Titanic; most of it is below the surface. It isn't just about branding anymore. It's about business solutions in an increasingly interconnected world.
Mr. Sandom is senior partner, director of OgilvyOne Interactive, OgilvyOne Worldwide, New York.
Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.