Conference Special: Online execs peg '96 Web ad spend at $100 mil

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Web advertising will reach $100 million this year, according to an unofficial survey of online industry executives attending the Interactive Services Association conference in San Diego on Monday. The voting, done with interactive touch pads, represented the opinion of some 900 representatives of Internet companies, technology providers, screen phone makers and other interactive businesspeople.

Advertising was a hot topic at the conference. At a session focusing specifically on the subject, panelists told attendees that while Web advertising is definitely in its infancy, there is no good time frame for when it will "grow up."

"It's hard right now to drive a stake in the ground ... to understand where the next [ad] model will come from, what the pricing will be," said Jim Pisz, national direct response manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Panelists also expressed concern over the adoption of banner advertising as the standard for the Web.

"The temptation we have to resist is to allow that which we know well and are comfortable with be imposed on what we don't know well and are not comfortable with," said Bob Colvin, president of Interactive Media Sales, a unit of Softbank Interactive Marketing.

Until good creative talent puts effort into Web advertising, the ad model will likely be driven by the business side. Matt Thornhill, president of Martin Interactive, added that at many agencies, top creative directors have turned up their noses at designing Web ads, mainly because their work isn't seen.

Also of concern among members of the audience: how to get balky marketers more involved in Web advertising. Panelists agreed that education is most important. But the telling moment will come later this year as marketers begin to plan their fiscal 1997 media budgets. While many budgeted for site construction in 1995 and 1996, the number of marketers making Web media part of their overall media budget will say much about the future of Web advertising, Mr. Thornhill said.

Copyright July 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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