RealTime IT News

Web Ad Sellers Lobby for Increased Spending

The online publishing industry continues to advocate for the Web's right to a larger share of the advertising spending pie, with Microsoft's MSN portal leading the charge with results of a new study based on a cross-media plan by Unilever.

The six-week study, which was endorsed by industry groups such as Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Advertising Research Foundation, looked at the total return on investment (ROI) from Unilever's television, print and online advertising campaigns for its Dove Nutrium soap. It also projected what would happen if Unilever took small portions of its TV and print budgets and re-allocated them to the Internet.

The projections were calculated by Rex Briggs, head of research firm Marketing Evolution, using input from ad effectiveness testers Dynamic Logic, Web Marketing LLC and mindshare, and Unilever's agency Ogilvy & Mather. They suggest that increasing online media as a percentage of total spending improved ROI significantly -- partially because advertisers can get good value from online media at its current low CPMs.

"Each element of a marketing mix should do something different," said Briggs, "but they reinforce each other."

According to the study, increasing the frequency of online ads from 1.7 impressions to 3.1 impressions over six weeks -- while reducing TV and print by .5 and .6 impressions, respectively -- would have boosted unaided brand awareness by 11 percent among the target female demographic. On the same basis, increasing online ad impressions to 12.5 impressions would have resulted in a 32 percent lift.

It was a similar story for brand image (which tested for recall of specific Nutrium message): increasing online ads to 3.1 impressions resulted in a 32 percent lift, while 12.5 impressions would have resulted in a 73 percent increase.

Purchase intent -- probably the most intuitive metric for gauging ROI -- would have increased 49 percent with 3.1 impressions, and a staggering 152 percent after 12.5 impressions.

Further boosting the industry's case, the online ad used in testing was a relatively ordinary animated skyscraper GIF. In other words, the study didn't better the Internet's results by using tactics like streaming video, layouts with one ad per page, or the "large rectangle" format -- all of which have been proven to boost branding.

"We know those newer products are a lot more effective at branding, so the results of the research are very conservative," said Frederick Savoye, director of partner marketing for MSN.

Those findings, if indeed indicative of real-world campaign results, would be a major vindication for the online ad sales industry, which has undertaken a series of self-improvement, research and educational initiatives designed to persuade offline advertisers to move their budgets online.

For instance, the New York-based IAB commissioned research last year suggesting that online ads have a measurable branding effect. In recent months, the group also proposed standard Terms & Conditions for media buying and guidelines for measuring, auditing and disclosing metrics like impressions, page views and unique visitors -- both considered important for encouraging traditional advertisers to spend online.

Similarly to those earlier efforts, Wednesday's study makes the case for shifting offline budgets to the Web.

"We've seen lots of proof that online advertising works, but this is the first time we have measured how online really stacks up to television and magazines," said ARF president Jim Spaeth. "The results are a giant leap forward for the advertising industry, addressing a question it has long been pondering."

Clearly, more research needs to be done, however. Most conspicuously, the study's results were based on projections, rather than actual results. (To that end, the study's participants said they would work to conduct a wider field study with more than 15 publishers and six major advertisers.)

Additionally, Wednesday's study doesn't touch on the issue of so-called ad burnout -- when consumers see so many impressions that they're numbed or annoyed by the product.

Nevertheless, those involved in the new findings remain optimistic about their implications.

"IAB considers the results of this research to be extremely valuable to our members and the industry at large, because they demonstrate that the Internet can dramatically improve a brand's ROI on overall marketing when it is a significant part of the overall media mix," said IAB president and chief executive Greg Stuart.