'WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT OUR AUDIENCE WOULD BE' HOW RICK BOYCE BUILT A BANNER BUSINESS FOR HOTWIRED
HotWired Ad Director Rick Boyce was instrumental in signing some of the site's first 14 charter sponsors; his work helped launch Web publishing as a business and advertising as a revenue stream.
Mr. Boyce didn't invent ad banners, but he has played a key role in their development. He talked recently with Advertising Age Reporter Alice Z. Cuneo about the HotWired launch and future Web ad models.
Advertising Age: Take us back to 1994, when the plans for HotWired were being laid. How did the idea of selling ad banners come about?
Mr. Boyce: The idea for banners evolved in April 1994 before I arrived. The idea was really modeled after what was going on with the online services.
Two things really drove that. One is an issue of real estate. Within a computer-mediated environment, a screen environment, there's really not a lot of opportunity, for example, to put full-page ads, spread ads, long video clips that might be downloadable.
So all the other media forms weren't applicable, mainly because we could get into unreasonable download time. It obviously had to be a smaller unit.
Given that the Web is millions of documents connected by hypertext, it also seemed to make sense that we could put a headline, or at least the beginning of a message, into a banner, then hypertext link it to a deeper, more detailed message.
That's exactly what we did.
It was an interesting time selling to advertisers because we didn't know what any of the measurement matrix might be.
When HotWired went live, we had 14 advertisers on the site. Not one of them had any idea what their delivery might be, what their click-through might be, or how their advertising might be viewed by the Internet community.
AA: How did you determine what to charge for the advertising?
Mr. Boyce: We had no idea what our audience would be, [but] we had some clues.
We had 25,000 people or so who were on our e-mail list, HotWired.com. We also had a number of people who were visiting our AOL Wired site, so we knew the brand was pretty well positioned in cyberspace.
We knew we would be noticed and we would generate interest and traffic. We simply didn't know how many and how much.
We looked at our cost structure, what our expenses would be, and we looked to advertising to help us meet as many of those expenses as possible. It was bottoms up, if you will.
We were asking people for $30,000 gross for a 12-week commitment. I think at the time, within the scope of media budgets, it's really not a lot of money for most major marketers.
AA: Banner ads have been criticized as not interactive, not engaging and not a successful model for many advertisers. What role do banner ads play in Web advertising today?
Mr. Boyce: I think they're actually a highly effective tool. When we combine the studies we're doing with the studies other sites are doing, and we're able to prove the effectiveness of this medium, and I think we can deliver that research, a lot of the skeptics will fall away. Banners are simply one way of messaging on the Web.
AA: Will banners go away?
Mr. Boyce: No way will banner ads go away. I think they're going to be a part of the Web advertising landscape for a long, long time.
AA: One of the biggest concerns in the Web ad industry today is the absence of traditional marketers. Why are there not more marketers using the Web to advertise?
Mr. Boyce: In my opinion, the next big categories to take off on the Web are going to be automotive, financial, travel and health, because each one of these categories requires a fair amount of research to make an intelligent decision. The Web is best suited for finding answers and solving problems.
I think, up until this point, it hasn't been entirely obvious as to how these types of categories can most benefit from the Web, what their messaging should look like.
Since their business isn't built around the Web, it's not a core part of their business strategy, they've had the luxury to wait a little bit, to test some things, to really get a good read on what their approach should be.
AA: If the banner was the ad model of choice on the Web this year, what will be the ad model for 1997?
Mr. Boyce: I think it will be rare to see a message next year that's not animated in one way, shape or form, either using Java or some kind of gif89 animation. There's enough evidence at this point that animation increases awareness of the ad, increases click-through.
Sponsorships are going to become increasingly important; I don't think they're going to become predominant. We're certainly counting on sponsorships to represent a sizable percentage of our business.