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In defense of junk ads on the Net

Glitz alone won't sell the glut of unsold ad space on the Net--that takes new advertisers. Budding Internet ad network Flycast is pursuing an interesting course.

Online ad professionals are flocking to New York this week for @dTech, where technology vendors will unveil the latest bells and whistles to wow consumers. But gee-whiz technology alone won't assure success for revenue-hungry Web publishers.

Glitz alone won't sell the glut of unsold ad space on the Net--that takes new advertisers. Budding Internet ad network Flycast is pursuing an interesting course.

George Garrick, the CEO since May, has repositioned Flycast as an ad network with a different emphasis than rivals DoubleClick or 24/7 Media.

Garrick wants Flycast to sell lots of low-priced ad banners to direct response marketers, rather than pushing more costly banners on well-known sites to advertisers who are eager to build their brands.

The categories of image vs. direct response ads are classic in the ad trade. Brand or image ads aim to raise a company's visibility or improve its reputation; direct response ads are designed to produce a sale.

Image advertisers favor prime-time TV and glossy magazine spreads. Direct response media include junk mail, late-night TV, and those annoying phone calls that interrupt dinner.

"The Internet is a much better medium for response advertisements than branding ads," Garrick asserts, noting the ease of responding online and the underwhelming impact of ad banners.

But direct response advertisers generally don't want to pay the premium rates brand-name Web sites charge--$30 to $100 per thousand impressions for big technology sites. Instead, the likelier targets are specialty sites that sell at much lower rates: $5, or even less for chat sites--around $2.

Garrick's solution: To go after direct-response advertisers, aggregate banners on cheap sites. What matters is the price and the response--the content quality, subject matter, or time of day are irrelevant.

It's the first Net ad network to stake its strategy on direct response, says Rich LeFurgy, a former Starwave and Disney Online ad exec and chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau.

"It's a very good model," he said, noting that DoubleClick, which had some 2,200 advertisers last quarter, also sells direct-response ads.