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Glassberg: Web Ad Industry is "All Messed Up"

LOS ANGELES -- Mistakes were made. But they're fixable.

That's the take of outspoken industry veteran and Interactive Advertising Bureau vice chairman Richy Glassberg, who took the stand Thursday at the @d:Tech trade show in Los Angeles to blast the industry for its self-inflicted shortcomings.

Granted, the industry is experiencing an across-the-boards decline in ad spending. But Glassberg, who is also founder, chairman and chief executive of Alley-based Phase2Media, said to an audience of Web advertisers, buyers and publishers that the interactive industry has been further hurting their cause, by selling a medium that buyers really don't understand in the first place.

"The Internet is really not getting its fair share of the advertising dollar out there. It's hard for people to understand this medium, because it does a little bit of what all of the other media can do," he said. "The Internet can do the branding and reach of television, and targeting and information-rich format of print, the immediacy and local delivery capabilities of radio, the precise targeting capabilities of direct mail. ... Plus it can do transactions."

But despite the medium's strengths, the Web advertising players have really dropped the ball in promoting it, and in educating media planners about how to do their jobs with interactive media, according to Glassberg.

The Web is "engaging consumers more than other media, and advertising dollars usually follow audience, but that's not happening in this case ... because there isn't a commonality of research that helps agencies and clients learn how to plan," Glassberg said. "That's a flaw that the industry has not solved."

One of the problems, he said, is that the research the industry purchases from outside firms isn't tailored for easy dissemination to media buyers.

"I think the third-party traffic measurement companies don't report metrics that are useful for advertisers," he said. "We're not reporting dayparts [traffic numbers by time of day] and frequency cappers [when ads should stop being served, to prevent overexposure]. We need to have third-party measurement firms understanding the unique power of the medium."

To solve this, Glassberg strikes a typically controversial position: the industry needs a mandatory disclosure logfile audit project.

"I think it's understandable that no one wanted to ... show their numbers. But we have to have full disclosure of our audience," he said. "In every other medium out there, there's full-disclosure audited measurement."

"I think it's crazy that we don't have that as an industry," he added. As a result of the industry not having such a project, Glassberg said Web advertisers and publishers don't agree on impressions, pageviews and users -- not just the numbers, but the definitions as well.

Throwing open publishers' logfiles could help resolve those issues -- as well as help determine peak times for media planners, and for media sellers. Once that's accomplished, the industry can -- and should -- begin selling dayparts, he said. (CBS MarketWatch is one publisher that's started to do this -- selling IAB-sized ad bundles to Budweiser on Friday afternoons.)

But Web publishers weren't the only ones to blame for the troubles facing Internet advertising. Glassberg also came down hard on agency media buyers, who should be taking a greater interest in figuring out how to better leverage the medium.

"Agencies have to accept responsibilities, and agencies have the power to move the medium," he said. "There is no substitute for effective media planning, and buys need to be tied to specific objectives. You can't get away with buying only portals today, it's not going to work. You have to train everyone better."

Another problem, Glassberg said, is that the advertising creative, isn't.

"When was the last time an Internet ad made you cry, made you want the product? Companies haven't made outstanding online ads," he said. "Demand better creatives."

Glassberg ended with an appeal to industry players to join the IAB or other industry organizations pushing for standardization and promoting the industry.

"I don't see enough of the leadership in promoting the medium," said Glassberg. "You need to contribute case studies ... join the committee initiative and start every presentation with information about the power of the medium. "