OPINION: Marketers debate FAST's outcome

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In the weeks following Procter & Gamble Co.'s FAST summit, debates have ensued, on issues ranging from the merits of the summit to the future of the Internet.

The debates are taking place in Internet news groups, private meetings, office hallways and phone conversations. Even as the last summit participants straggled out of the P&G Towers Aug. 21, the debate began in cabs headed to the Cincinnati airport. P&G held internal debriefing sessions and Denis Beausejour, P&G's VP-advertising, called summit leaders to pick their brains about the conference.

With the goal of jump-starting Web advertising, P&G did more than bring together marketers, agency executives, Web publishers and technology leaders to brainstorm. It was a catalyst to resolving some of the basic questions facing the industry, from branding to technology limitations.


In the Online Ads discussion group, members hotly debated whether the Internet is an effective branding medium.

"There's a lot of hype surrounding the Internet, but one thing is sure: e-commerce works," one member wrote in a posting to the list. "Whether it's direct marketing (e.g. Dell [Computer Corp.], Amazon.com) or the auction model (eBay), or good old-fashioned price competition (E-trade), branding has nothing to do with it."

A respondent replied: "Brands have everything to do with any successful company, whether [it is] selling consumer goods or [conducting] e-commerce, online or offline. Branding is intrinsically linked to the way we communicate."

David Simons, managing director of analyst Digital Video Investments, e-mailed a report with the following advice: "Particularly after [the] clear message from P&G et al of `We want it to be more like TV,' it seems that application of cable digital compression to targeting of regular TV ads deserves more attention."


In fact, the convergence issue is gaining momentum in the wake of the summit, as marketers look for technologies to target video messages to users. This week, @home will announce new advertisers for its high-bandwidth online service, including Levi Strauss & Co., AT&T Corp. and others.

Another debated topic is whether it makes sense to create standards for ad models, as one of the FAST Forward task forces is trying to do, or whether this will constrain the development of the medium.

As Tim Smith, CEO of Red Sky Interactive and a FAST summit participant noted, "Some people still think we have to stay super tactical and focus on ad banners, while other people are ready to invest and start experimenting [with new ad models]."

Regardless of the model, he said, "The best ideas come from consumers, not technology companies."

By debating the burning questions raised by FAST--branding, whether consumers will get the information on their TV or PC, ad models--the industry will move toward finding solutions to advance the medium. Already, there are tangible results.

Here's one: Before FAST, the Internet Advertising Bureau and the Coalition for Advertising Supported Information & Entertainment advocated different ways of measuring online ads. The IAB wanted to measure ads served, while CASIE proposed measuring ads actually delivered (between serving and delivery things can happen, like ad impressions getting cached on proxy servers, giving different measures).

As a result of the groups working together in a new coalition, FAST Forward, and in work done at the summit on a measurement task force, the associations have agreed to work first on developing a standard for counting ads served and later a standard for counting ads actually delivered.


Other results are sure to emerge from FAST as the task forces formed during the summit begin work on items they developed during breakout sessions.

While industry leaders may disagree about the mechanics of developing Internet ads and whether the Internet is better for branding or e-commerce, the most important aspect to come out of FAST is that parties who used to sit at opposite sides of the table (e.g. media buyer John Nardone from Modem Media-Poppe Tyson and media seller Richy Glassberg from Turner Interactive) are now working together to figure out how to make the Internet work as an ad medium.

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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