Study: Marketers Shifting Online Budgets to Content Sites

Expect Ad Dollars to Flow as Recession Loosens Grip

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NEW YORK (AdAge) -- With their ability to cheaply reach eyeballs, online ad networks have commanded more money and attention from marketers in the past few years, thus edging out content sites in the conversation for ad dollars. A recent study, however, claims content is back.

WebMD is cited in the study as an example of a content destination.
WebMD is cited in the study as an example of a content destination.
A survey of agencies and marketers revealed that 52% of them plan to spend more on content sites this year, whereas only 35% said they were likely to increase budgets for ad networks. As examples of content destinations, the study cited ESPN and WebMD.

"In the last two years ad networks have taken advantage of the recession, but what's missing from that is why advertisers advertise in the first place -- it's all about brand," said Randy Cohen, president of research firm Advertiser Perceptions, which conducted the study. "Content sites may not have efficiencies, but they have more context and more relevance to brands. There's a changing ecosystem for online display advertising."

Video takes TV share
The report also found that online video will take a share away from broadcast TV this year, with 57% of respondents saying they were likely to shift ad dollars in that direction. The reason is similar to the shift that favors content over network. Sites like are enticing marketers with clean, professional content.

"I also see it as part of the rising tide for cable networks versus broadcast -- cable has some of the leading content sites around video," Mr. Cohen said. "And, secondarily, the technology is actually working. The issue now is just how much more you're putting to online."

The study showed that among big ad spenders -- those budgeting $10 million or more -- 70% were likely to move money from TV to online video.

Flight to content
As always, surveys like this reflect intentions of marketers and agencies and is not a necessary indication of actual plans. But respondents pretty consistently said that as recession-bound budgets loosen, they'll be looking to spend more to increase their brands' associations online, something ad networks have not always been able to accurately deliver.

"We still see tremendous growth for ad networks," Mr. Cohen said. "The only thing is, there are a lot of great tools and research but not a whole lot of intelligence about how to make it work. They need to think more about what marketers are trying to do with that information."

One of those tools includes behavioral targeting, widely bandied about as the best way to engage viewers online. Typically, the method involves tracking a user's click stream to determine his likes and dislikes, a practice that some privacy advocacy groups have brought to the attention of Washington.

Demos over behaviors
Whether any political fallout was a factor, 70% of marketers more commonly preferred to target based on demographics, vs. 59% who more commonly used behavioral metrics.

Though Mr. Cohen's research firm did not unearth the reasons for this preference, he suspected it was because of the legacy of TV ad planning, typically geared toward demographics, not behavior. It may be a further signal that people in the industry are either not convinced of this new metric, or don't know how to rejigger ad dollars accordingly.

"It was a somewhat surprising finding," Mr. Cohen said. "So much behavioral information and context and geo-location information out there, and demo targeting is still the most used. It's still a vestige of TV advertising. It's pretty amazing."

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