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Digital Format Presents Rubik’s Cube of Challenges to Advertisers



BY MARK LARSON

The digital format of Web sites and television has triggered new strategies for ad agencies trying to get the most attention for their customers’ products and services.

Before the arrival of the Internet and the digitization of TV and radio, the typical advertising buys were made with print and broadcast outlets. Newspapers and magazines made up the print side, while TV and radio were the broadcast components of an advertising budget.

But the proliferation of Web sites on the Internet spawned the digital age of advertising. And with it came the big challenge of getting a message across to a targeted audience in what has become a very noisy, fragmented advertising market.

Several local ad agency executives reflect about the changes in the market and how they figure out the most effective ad placements for clients.

Kathleen Cunningham, president of Advanced Marketing Strategies in San Diego, said the shrinking readership of daily newspapers has affected advertising buys.

“The (San Diego) Union-Tribune’s automotive section used to be an inch thick, now it’s a couple of pages,” Cunningham said, noting the same is generally true for its food section. Lower daily newspaper readership has fueled a shift in ad spending toward broadcast, Internet and direct-mail pitches, she said.


Net Income

Now, Internet ad buys make up 20 percent of her total ad spending.

“It hasn’t taken over traditional media buys, but it has become an essential part of the mix,” she said.

To keep advertising dollars from bleeding away from their newspaper pages, dailies have put up Web sites with news and information to attract online readers and advertisers. Whether they will eventually supplant the lost print readership and advertising , which has put most daily newspapers across the nation in a state of decline , remains to be seen.

One strategy newspapers are using online isn’t working at all, said Cunningham: When they post a full-page print ad on their Web site.

“People don’t want to see a flat ad on the Internet,” she said. “They want it interactive with multiple pictures.”

Broadcast ads have remained popular buys, she said, because they can direct people to a company Web site where purchases can be made. And Web site purchases , which show whether ads are effective or not , can easily be tracked, adds Cunningham.

Web site ads that are placed on a variety of sites with similar customer demographics can also be tracked for their ability to direct product purchases at a main Web site. They include ads placed at the top, middle or side of a Web page.

“We can see what sites, pages, types of ads perform the best,” said Cunningham. She has found that the best way to use the Internet for client companies is to get e-mail addresses volunteered by customers of Ikea, for instance, then put out occasional e-mails to them about in-store deals. “The trick is to not bombard them with e-mails,” she said.

John McKusick, principal with Geary Interactive in San Diego, also sees the value of instant online tracking to see whether ads are boosting buys at a client’s main Web site. His company works with other ad agencies to develop online advertising strategies for their clients.

“The best campaign has a balance of both online and off-line ads,” said McKusick. The idea is that they all funnel visits to a Web site and, ultimately, lead to product or service purchases.


TV’s New Era

These days, TV options such as TiVo, or digital video recording, allow viewers to replay a favorite show at a convenient time. During the replays, there’s the opportunity to fast forward easily through the ads.

So far, it hasn’t been a huge problem for advertisers, however. Only 8 percent of TV owners use the recording option. And Nielsen Media Research, which tracks TV-viewing habits, recently reported that those watching recorded shows still watch 40 percent of the ads on them.

One strategy to battle viewers’ ability to skip past ads, said Cunningham, are product placements visible within shows, such as the large Coca-Cola containers prominently placed in front of the “American Idol” judges. Another example is Nissan’s new Versa, which has been worked into a story line of the show “Heroes.”

McKusick said the skip-over problem of ads on recorded shows amounts to a creative challenge to ad shops to bring music and visuals so compelling that viewers will want to watch them. It’s comparable to the way Super Bowl ads are sought out. Other strategies include shorter ads, lasting only five seconds versus the traditional 30 seconds, interactive features, and the sponsorship of a show by one company that gives its name prominent mention.

Still, newspaper and magazine ads have a place in the ad-buy mix as media that will continue to attract readers, said McKusick.

“There’s the tactile aspect of it,” he said, which is preferred by the older generations. Beyond that, photographs and art that are in print are much more intense, detailed and crisp than on a computer screen.


Mark Larson is a freelance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.

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