Non-profit ads find a home on the Internet

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When Kate Everett-Thorp, president-CEO at San Francisco's Lot21 Interactive Advertising, started asking Web site publishers to donate space for an Environmental Defense Fund campaign, she was surprised many didn't have set guidelines about online public service announcements.

"Even when the phone calls started out, `I have no idea, but I'll find out,' " she said, people usually came through with inventory.

The response has been great, Ms. Everett-Thorp added. "In lieu of formal guidelines, people have adopted their own policies allowing non-profit banners and PSAs to appear," she said.

Borrowing from a traditional media practice, interactive agencies are leveraging campaigns for non-profit organizations to drum up business and increase exposure. Similarly, Web site publishers eye PSAs as a charitable activity that eats up excess ad inventory.


According to the Ad Council, $5.2 million was spent on online Ad Council PSA campaigns in 1997, a 49% increase over 1996.

And many industry insiders agree the Internet is particularly suited for PSAs because Web pages are inexpensive to produce and adapt, and are easy to distribute online.

Lee Nadler, director of global marketing/marketing sherpa at DoubleClick, said the ad network has delivered 350 million impressions for non-profits since the company started two years ago. The charities range from Habitat for Humanity to Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "The Web is ideal for non-profit groups," Mr. Nadler said. Non-profit campaigns can afford to take creative risks to get people's attention online, he said, with features like pop-up windows and interstitials. "These non-profit groups have wonderful stories to tell," Mr. Nadler said.

Web sites allow for the delivery of more content than a half-page print ad or a TV commercial, he added, and a banner is a "doorway" to that information.


While online PSAs have been around since the Web's inception, formal guidelines have only fallen into place in the last year. Last November, the Internet Advertising Bureau, partnering with the Ad Council, pledged to donate 5% of its ad inventory for public service announcements on a space-available basis. It projected this would generate an estimated 1 billion impressions a year. NetGravity agreed to serve the Ad Council PSA ads.

To make it easier for Web publishers, the Ad Council's recently redesigned site offers ad buttons and banners of various sizes, which can be previewed and downloaded. When completed, the site will also allow traditional media companies and agencies to preview Ad Council print and TV campaigns, and then order spots via e-mail.

Michael Chaney, exec VP at U.S. Interactive, which redesigned the Ad Council's Web site, said making ad creative readily available on the site was key to trimming distribution costs for the non-profit organization. While it's too early to tell how many more interactive agencies are tapping into the new site, Mr. Chaney said over the past year, "We're seeing more [online PSA campaigns] and the quality of them is getting better."

The Web already has an advantage over other online media because excess inventory is so plentiful and PSAs can run in prime time. "You have this leftover inventory and you do some yield management from it, but it's kind of like trying to get blood from a turnip," said David Wilson, VP-marketing at Internet discussion group site Deja News. With remnant inventory, Deja News barters ads to other sites and does yield management in the form of selling space on a per-click or per-transaction basis, Mr. Wilson said. And for a small percentage of ad space, it also runs house ads or PSAs, he said.

While it hasn't done a great deal of non-profit advertising to date, Deja News is looking for a non-profit organization to take under its wings, Mr. Wilson said. "I'd like to adopt one organization and try to do more than just banners," he said.


Chicago interactive agency Two Way Communications has adopted several local non-profit groups, including Children's Memorial Hospital, for which it's created a pledge site and banner ads to raise money in conjunction with the hospital's annual telethon that takes place the weekend of May 29.

"The pledging goes on before the telethon," said Two Way President Bob Gear, adding, "We're reaching an audience that they wouldn't normally reach. So we're not taking away from the TV audience."

The ability to target PSAs online also can make them potentially more powerful than a nationally broadcast TV spot. Lot21's campaign for the Environment Defense Fund's new site, the Chemical Scorecard (, allows users to discover the sources of pollution in their town. One banner reads, "Learn about pollution in your area. Enter your ZIP code." Users can then click through to the EDF site, created inhouse with a large group of consultants, where they can compare their city regionally and nationally for various pollutants.


Consumers can also pinpoint the source of pollution in their area, and directly fax the company responsible. David Roe, senior attorney at the Environment Defense Fund, said a high percentage of its traffic has come from the PSA banners, which are running on sites such as Yahoo!, Infoseek and CNET.

"This site localizes the issue," he said. "You can go straight to your ZIP code and get the pollution picture right in your own neighborhood, without having to slog through national data."

And it's that immediacy that will create Internet centers of action and participation, U.S. Interactive's Mr. Chaney believes. These sites, "will facilitate people making a difference quicker than they've historically been able to," he said.

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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