“There has been so much investment put into technology for online advertising, but I don’t think we have the same investment to make the online branding better,” Mr. Maheu said. “The amount of investments right now are all focused on direct response; it’s much, much more than the amount of investment for online branding. And that’s for simple reasons. I think Google has shown the online medium is effective with direct response. That doesn’t mean it won’t be effective for branding. I think the industry as a whole, marketers, ad agencies, publishers, need to work together to improve what we can do with the Internet to create great brands or enhance the brands online.”
And branding is where newspapers, with their traditionally more attractive consumer demographic, might have a jump.
Yet at the highest demographics even, it appears the energy isn’t focused here.
“We haven’t figured out brand advertising, we are just beginning to,” said Drew Schutte, the chief revenue officer for Condé Nast Digital.
He called his company’s products “passion reads” that are therefore protected from competition from “information” on the Web: Anyone can write about fashion, but only Vogue is Vogue.
“We also do agree that it’s something we have to figure out,” Mr. Schutte said. “It’s gotten pigeonholed in a direct-response mode. That’s lazy. The Internet helps in transactions and it’s a tremendous place for branding. We haven’t done any significant branding to date. If you ask somebody what was the last great Internet ad you saw, they’re hard-pressed to remember. And we’re all at fault at that a bit.”
FlipGloss, a California-based ad start-up that just launched their beta site last week, is one company offering a model for high-end publishers and brands. Their interactive Web advertising translates the visual experience of flipping through a magazine on the computer screen.
“We think about a woman sitting on a park bench flipping through a 600-page Vogue that she likely bought just as much for the advertising as she did for the content,” said co-founder and chief executive Kerry Trainor. “Those types of experiences point to something very powerful in a way that ads and content are commingled in those experiences.”
Users can hover on particular products on models and click them for more information and links to share on social networking sites like Facebook and Digg.
“Share anything that you want, just like tearing the ad out of the magazine and putting it in a purse,” Mr. Trainor said. “It’s really just allowing people to continue that natural path toward discovery.”
THE MEDIA IS … DYING
What any publisher of online journalism will have to do to bring in the ad dollars of the future, besides mastering the kind of brand advertising that start-ups like FlipGloss are developing, and making themselves the right environments for those kinds of advertisements, is to take another lesson from the start-ups: The Web is a social medium.
“There’s a new theme in the online space,” Mr. Maheu of Ogilvy said. “Brand marketing is no longer one-way communication, which is what it’s like for print. You know: This is my story, take it or leave it. But digital? It’s so interactive. It lets you engage with consumers.”
Here’s where the editors who have read a few too many “comments” on their site about gold investing and spam farming start to groan.
But if interactivity is the future of advertising, then the online news space must become interactive in order to get support from the advertisers.
Facebook is so popular because it connects people to their friends’ experiences—all of their photos, videos, postings and personal preferences displayed in a pretty, “news feed” interface. Twitter caught on by creating a service that answered a simple question: What are my friends doing right now, with updates in real time.
Everyone in the new world has a status. Newspapers can take a lesson from “status culture” by integrating it into their sites. What are readers reading right now? How many people have their eyes on one story? Who are they emailing it to? Where are they blogging it? How are their friends using the site?
“I think The New York Times, you’ve done a great job of learning what are the users paying attention to, but you’re not really reflecting that back to them in a reflected status,” said Tim O’Reilly, chief executive officer of O’Reilly Media, Inc., a top computer book publishing company during his keynote speech at The New York Times’ Times Open event on Feb. 20. He suggested that the The Times provide users with an opt-in sharing feature that would give the digital staff permission to publicly promote what their users are reading, and with whom they are sharing it.