AT&T shelled out an estimated $567,000 from October through December to buy "links"-logos placed on one Web site to direct users to another. The survey, from newsletter publisher WebTrack, pegs total marketer spending on the Web for the quarter at $12.4 million.
Netscape Communications Corp. ranked as the top ad-supported site, taking in about $1.8 million in revenue.
The numbers go a long way toward validating the Web as an ad medium. But there's plenty of skepticism about WebTrack's methodology, both from those covered in the survey and those planning their own measurement studies.
"The research on the Web is a little flaky .*.*. To actually put a dollar value to it may do a little more harm than good," said Janet Bloomfield, director of interactive marketing at MasterCard International, ranked No. 5 among advertisers with $278,000 in spending.
WebTrack's research, conducted in October and November, compared 102 Web sites that carried advertising and identified more than 250 active Web advertisers.
But the results were flawed by the assumption advertisers paid full rate card (something very few are doing) and that they appeared on a site for the entire quarter.
Ms. Bloomfield said MasterCard's total was lower than WebTrack's estimate. And John Nardone, consumer products account director at AT&T interactive agency Modem Media, Westport, Conn., indicated AT&T spent more than was reported.
Mary Lou Floyd, general manager of AT&T's Internet site, declined to comment on AT&T's Web ad expenditures, but said, "This has been our biggest quarter in terms of putting a lot of media links up."
At Netscape, Barbara Gore, who holds the title of publisher, said WebTrack was "in the ballpark."
"In the absence of transactions being conducted on the Web, it's difficult to judge the success of the Web as a commercial medium," said James Kennedy, managing editor at New York-based WebTrack, adding that the company's results are accurate "based on the assumptions we made."
WebTrack found the top 10 advertisers accounted for 26%, or $3.2 million, of total spending. Interestingly, the top 10 publishers accounted for 75% of total revenue, leaving a very small amount split by the 92 other publishers surveyed.
Just as the market for Web traffic measurement has gotten crowded, so too will the business of tracking ad expenditures.
Nielsen Media Research will implement a tracking service under its Monitor Plus umbrella in the first half of next year, and is talking with WebTrack, Web search engine Lycos and others about developing a methodology.
Meanwhile, Competitive Media Reporting next year will test AdLab, a service that tracks ad placements on the Web but not actual expenditures.
Web publishers surveyed by Advertising Age-Lycos, ESPNet SportsZone and c/net: The Computer Network-confirm that WebTrack's tallies ($1.3 million, $600,000 and $540,000, respectively) are in line with their own fourth-quarter figures. But they warn the results are more useful as comparisons than as actual figures.
The research, however, leaves no doubt that marketers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising on the Web.