Striking up the brand

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Evangelizing the internet as the most accountable ad-delivery mechanism ever is so 1998. The true radicals today are hyping the Web for its efficacy in a decidedly old-media metric: brand-building.

Industry giants Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, DoubleClick and the Interactive Advertising Bureau announced results of three new studies July 17, all focused on showing that banners, as well as the newer skyscrapers and rectangle ads, have an impact on brand awareness, message association and brand favorability, while repeated exposure to the ads also increases purchase intent. Brands studied included British Airways, Bristol-Myers Squibb's Vaniqa face cream and Coca-Cola.

The IAB and MSN studies were done by Dynamic Logic, while DoubleClick's research was conducted by its Diameter online research group. Some other companies, such as CNET Networks, joined in with their own studies.

One of the central findings is that bigger is indeed better. While standard banners do work for branding, bigger ad units work better, and bigger units with rich media work even better than those, the research found. Research showed the best brand-building unit is the interstitial, not a surprising finding given that the unit briefly monopolizes the user's monitor.

The new, larger IAB Interactive Marketing Units, which allow users to interact with ads without hijacking them to other sites, were found to improve key branding metrics by an average of 40% across all three studies compared to baseline measures for the nine advertisers in the study. Rich media tools such as audio, video, Flash and DHTML had a bigger impact, as did ad implementation-interstitials increased brand metrics by an average of 194%.

The companies emphasized that while online advertising is good for introducing consumers to new brands, it also is effective for brands such as Coca-Cola to accelerate buying among existing customers.

The findings come in the aftermath of CBS MarketWatch's decision that it will no longer automatically provide click-through data to its clients, and will focus on branding metrics (see related story, above). But in an industry that was billed as the best direct-marketing vehicle ever, not everyone is convinced the focus should be taken off of direct response measurements.

Andrew Pakula, CEO of performance-based company ORB, said branding data are nice, but "quite frankly, [sites] are trying to rationalize their existence."

Branding is part of the mix, he said, but "At the end of the day, it has to lead to an action, not recall."

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