Study: Traditional Advertisers Outnumber Dot-Coms

It’s a long-awaited sign: according to a new study, traditional advertisers
surpassed dot-com advertisers for the first time in March.

Of the top 100 advertisers in March, more than half were traditional
advertisers, according to the study, conducted by New York-based
Nielsen//NetRatings.

The study indicates that traditional offline companies made up 56 of the
top 100 online advertisers last month — a telling indicator for the whole
spectrum of Internet advertisers.

Naturally, this is good news. Traditional advertisers typically have
deeper pockets than dot-coms, and are more attracted to Web ads’ branding
properties — which is reassuring, since average clickthrough rates for
so-called “highly targeted” banner ads rarely top the 0.5 percent mark.

Dot-coms and other “digital economy” firms made up 34 of the top 100
advertisers, while high-tech companies accounted for the remainder.

“For the first time, we see a changing of the guards in the world of
online advertising,” said Allen Weiner, who is vice president of analytical
services at NetRatings. “Traditional offline companies have caused a
seismic shift in the sheer number of companies opting to do online campaigns
and the amount of money they spend, signaling a healthy forecast for the
industry as the year progresses.”

Weiner also pointed to recent online campaign announcements from
advertisers like Pepsi, Diet Coke and Ford, which “suggests renewed interest
in the medium by traditional advertisers and agencies.”

Among the top 100 advertisers, the single largest chunk of spending came
from traditional-side clients.

In all, advertisers spent nearly $280 million on online advertising
during March, according to the study. Of that, about $123.3 million — or
44 percent — came from traditional advertisers. Dot-coms shelled out
$104.8 million, or 37 percent, while high-tech firms spent $51.4 million, or
18.4 percent.

Of the top 100 Web advertisers, offline brands also bought the most
impressions. Some five billion impressions were served on behalf of
traditional firms, while dot-coms and cross-media plays purchased a
still-hefty 4.3 billion impressions. High-tech firms bought about two
billion impressions.

Financial services firms proved the big spenders from the traditional
side. Credit reporting service Equifax led with 636 million impressions,
followed by Providian Bank, with nearly 504 million impressions. E*Trade
came next, with 254 million impressions.

(Financial services firm typically spend relatively large amounts on
brand advertising across all media. That’s because there are often only
minute differences in their services offerings — so carving out a brand
identity is key.)

In the digital economy category, Yahoo! had more than 554 million
impressions, while AOL Time Warner served up nearly 512 million impressions.
(Both figures don’t include house ads.) Microsoft dominated the high-tech
category, leading with more than 1.2 billion impressions served in March.

Weiner said that in large part, the shift from an industry largely
reliant on dot-com ad spending, to traditional client dollars, is more due
to offline brands’ moving offline in increasing strength rather than the
continued dot-com shakeout.

Indeed, many offline brands have adopted a “watch and wait” strategy,
learning from dot-com advertising blunders (such as overspending, poor media
placement, poor creatives, and so on). Now that advertising prices are
reaching all-time lows, traditional companies are feeling more comfortable
taking their considerable media and advertising expertise and pushing
online.

“No other medium in history provides the immediacy, interaction and
precise targeting that the Web offers,” Weiner said. “The burden will be on
the creative folks to learn how to use the Web effectively and make lasting
impressions.”

NetRatings’ Weiner has been one of the few industry-watchers coming out
with good news for the battered online advertising sector. In a similar
AdSpectrum study for NetRatings last month, he assessed new advertising
campaigns launched during first quarter, and concluded that traditional
advertisers are beefing up their spending.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Weiner also said he predicts a second
coming of dot-com advertisers later in 2001. But there’s no real need to
worry: unlike the firms that dominated Web advertising since its inception,
these new dot-com advertisers will be better educated in prudent ad
spending, creative design, and media placement than their fallen peers of
1999 and 2000, he said. As a result, they should fare better and contribute
significantly to overall industry revenues.

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