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New group formed for online ads

An advertising industry summit announces a new organization that will build a consensus for the future of online ads.

The major constituencies in the Internet advertising industry--advertisers, Web publishers, ad agencies, and technology suppliers--have banded together in a series of initiatives designed to boost online advertising.

At the conclusion of a two-day FAST Summit on Internet advertising, sponsored by big-time advertisers Procter & Gamble and Unilever, the groups vowed to meet an aggressive set of specific measures to boost online ads.

The new group, called "Fast Forward," includes summit participants including more than 400 leading advertisers, ad-supported Web sites, agencies, and technology firms. The FAST Summit, which stands for "Future of Advertising Stakeholders," was hosted by Procter & Gamble, which spends more than $3 billion per year on advertising, but only $12 million on the Net.

"We have demonstrated even before FAST that we recognize the need to come together on things that bring us together rather than divide on things we differ on," said Mike Donahue, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA).

"All of us are in the same organization, sitting around the table, excited about the prospect that the industry can come together--a year ago, this may not have been possible," said Rich LeFurgy, chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), a trade group for ad-supported Web sites.

In addition to the AAAA and IAB, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), a trade group for major advertisers, and the Advertising Research Foundation also are represented on the new group's steering committee.

"Although participants have different interests and goals, they share a basic overall objective, which is to develop online advertising so that the medium can be made more widely available and highly desirable for consumers," P&G said in promoting the event.

According to a recent ANA survey, 68 percent of companies surveyed said they advertise on the Net, up from 38 percent in 1997.

Large advertisers at the summit included AT&T, Clorox, Coca-Cola, and McDonald's.

"Check your agendas at the door and focus on what's best overall for the industry," LeFurgy, who will chair the new organization's steering committee, said yesterday when the meeting convened. His message for the advertisers, agencies, and technology experts who approach Internet advertising differently was to work together.

"It's time for us to link arms and say, 'The medium is good, and it's going to get better,'" he said.

But some advertisers complain that it is difficult to justify major spending in an untested medium where, so far, they cannot measure the return on investment.

Four task forces were set up to examine issues such as consumer acceptance, effective advertising models, broadly accepted measurements, and making online media easier to buy.

Reuters contributed to this report.