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In defense of Net advertising

Attendees at summer Internet World hear a spirited defense of Web advertising, just after a discussion about its shortcomings.

CHICAGO--Hours after learning that advertising dollars will not sustain the Internet media companies that depend on them, attendees at summer Internet World here heard a spirited defense of advertising on the Web.

The focus this time, however, was not on the media companies that host ads, but on the companies that buy ad space to promote their brands. Entitled "Branding: Alive and Well on the Net...Despite Early Reports of its Demise," the panel vigorously defended the Web as an excellent medium for companies to get their name and message out to potential customers.

The key to success in Web advertising, agreed panel members, is to combine traditional advertising with marketing tools and strategies that companies usually pursue separately.

"The big sea change of this industry is bringing brand building, relationship marketing, and customer service into one medium," said panel member and Internet Advertising Bureau president Rich LeFurgy. "The Internet is changing the world of marketing."

But even though LeFurgy sees the potential of Internet advertising in its ability to handle multiple roles--he refers to the Net as a "multitasking medium"--he also defended the static banner ad as a valuable marketing device. According to one study by the IAB, subjects that were exposed to one banner ad, even if they did not click on it, were 4 percent more aware of the brand and product, and 4 percent more likely to make a purchase.

Web banners used to their full potential are superior to any kind of traditional advertising, said panel member and HomeArts general manager Kathryn Creech. "Good branding on the Web is like good content on the Web," Creech said. "It requires interactivity. It's about providing a branding experience that not only communicates the brand but gives users an opportunity for personal involvement, feedback, and personalization. The moment you can get users involved with a brand, you have moved to a stage that any other medium has a hard time competing with."

Creech showed a few banner ads that demonstrated her point. Targeted to users who were reading editorial content about retirement planning, a banner ad for a financial planning firm let users enter age and income to determine how much money they should be saving monthly to be able to retire with a comparable standard of living.

Even Web advertising nay-sayers found themselves won over by this approach.

"That's exactly the kind of thing the ads should be doing," said Forrester Research senior analyst James Nail, whose morning session had predicted a shakeout in the realm of Internet advertising.

Nail had said in his presentation that he had yet to encounter a media firm that was able to insert itself into the direct relationship between a buyer and a seller that companies are establishing through their own Web sites. But Creech's examples did meet that description, Nail conceded.

"It's the exception that proves the rule," Nail said, adding that Web advertisers would do well to follow those examples.