Web Publishers: It's a *Brand* New Web

by Dave Zornow

An old battle cry is new again in the world wild Web. In 1999 — when the sun first shined on the ad supported web — a few visionary voices predicted a dim future for publishers unless they found a way to move beyond cost per click into a branding. Ten years later, Nielsen Online CEO John Burbank said it again at the Advertising Research Foundation’s AM 4.0 conference in New York.

“Web publishers need to send less inventory to ad networks,”  at abysmally low CPMs, says Burbank the former P&G executive.  Burbank says, the current practivce isn’t sustainable and sites need to find a way to make branding work.

Burbank illustrated the staying power of brand advertising on televsision by flashing a picture of Mr. Whipple, the legendary character identified with the Charmin toilet tissue. Although the brand hasn’t been active for about 20 years, most of the attendees could identify the character unaided and also remember the memorable tag line, “please don’t squeeze the Charmin.”

It’s not that advertisers aren’t trying to do brand advertising — is just that it has been mostly hit and miss up to now. Burbank cited campaigns by Kleenize and Puffs to do TV-style branding via web advertising. The results were less than memorable.

“Really boring CPG products need time to tell stories,” says Burbank, noting that it’s alot harder to brand uninspiring products like toilet paper than iPhones. “You need to have time. The ad has to persist.” Both Yahoo and the New York Times — working with advertisers like Microsoft’s BING search engine and Apple — have found ways to make it work. Burbank cited the recent Apple campaign for the PC and Mac guys which used a banner that covered the NYT’s legendary masthead incorporated with two synchronized skyscaper ads on the left and the right.

Burbank says good brand advertising needs to answer four questions:

  • Did I reach my target? “Demos are a good start, but information about offline consumer behavior is better,” he says.
  • Was my ad delivered to the target — did the audience spend quality time with the ad? Did the brand have an opportunity to tell its story?
  • Did the ad change how people feel about my brand?
  • Did the ad sell more product?

“The current business models won’t support the web,” Burbank says. “The current economic environment and its focus on ROI.gives publishers a unique opportunity to  set a new standard for brand advertising on the Web.”

See also: Primary Impact, “Deja Vu All Over Again”

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