For advertisers on the net the key word is innovation.
So what is fuelling the rapid technological innovation in Internet advertising? One major reason is the finding, though a bit too late, that earlier forms of advertising on the Internet - pop ups, banner ads etc were just not having any effect. The reason was simple. Pop-ups irritated people, and hardly anyone clicked on banner ads, unless they were specific to what people were looking for.
And, even that was a short-term phenomenon. The obtrusive attention-seeking manner of banner ads just made the surfer tired. "The entire focus was on such easily measured things like click-through rates. Important and nebulous things like brand recall, the propensity to buy the brand etc, requires much more sensitive research. Banner ads called for attention and action; it was no surprise that brand fatigue set it soon," comments ND Badrinath of Mumbai-based bridgeovertw.com.
It was with this realisation that the new wave of Internet innovations sprang up. Right now, there is a market for extremely precise targeting, such as Yahoo! India's fusion targeting, or the Mumbai-based Indbazaar's individual databanks, or bridgeovertw's concept of extremely personalised targeting, by which a surfer who logs in after a gap of say two weeks, would see his the message "Welcome back! Missed you for two weeks" flash across the screen. Such innovative databanks are just an indication of how competitive Internet advertising and databank creation have become. Points out Tapan Pal, managing director, Mumbai-based Zenith Media, "What has happened now is that the market for databanks has become extremely complex. While the NRS does a survey every six months or so, on the net, clients demand databanks by brands visited, the number one brand, the projections of viewership and so on."
Such precise demands make some analysts feel that the whole emphasis on the net as an advertising medium is misplaced, and that it is more of a direct marketing tool. The net does have several direct marketing advantages. For example, products can be ordered at once, products such as spectacles can be tried on a photo of the consumer that can be easily uploaded and so on. Comments Badrinath, "At the end of the day, it is a direct marketing rather than an advertising medium." For the present though, the failure of e-commerce to catch up, and the lack of offline logistical support for online activity has made the net in India more of an advertising medium.
Databank creation has become a field of intense competition. In fact, dotcoms are tailoring their products in tune with the latest research findings. For example, research showed that Internet users could be ranked according to the type of usage - most surfers come looking for information; they are followed by e-mail users or chatters, and, finally, there are those who come looking for games. Some companies are trying to combine all three. Thus, the Mumbai-based Indbazaar.com is tying up with companies such as HomeTrade, to set up a quiz format. The idea is to create quizzes that cover various aspects, such as finance, travel etc.
While the quiz format ensures that only people with a reasonable level of interest visit the site, the data collected would be much more accurate. First, visitors at a particular quiz format would be more susceptible to targeted advertising and the loyalty of the user can be measured using parameters like the amount of time spend at the site. The awareness of net savvy users can be measured depending on the number of correct or wrong answers in a particular section. Says Amit Zaveri, director, Indbazaar.com, "Basically, this type of targeting is more precise, and gives more value for money."
Financial considerations are one important factor that is fuelling advertising on the new media. With broadband set to arrive, streaming audio and video advertisements on the net would have an advantage over television - ads can be targeted at an audience that is interested in the products in question, while the cost works out to be less. For example, a three-month slot on Indbazaar cost Rs 1.5 lakh, compared to the Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 for a 10-second slot on the less expensive channels.
Human interface, and consequent error, is also reduced by the use of electronic networking, with clients being able to approve bids online, and shoppers able to try out products before actually buying them. One key advantage that the Internet has over other media is the speed of response to any campaign on it, and with WAP and LAN systems, and broadband, the speed at which a campaign is judged a success or failure will go up.
Ironically, the emergence of broadband and such high technology could also mean the end of the current databank obsession. Right now, the focus is on volumes. However, with broadband enabling the creation of television like commercials on the net, the demand will be for better visuals, rather than the patchy ones of today. In such a scenario, creative will once again come to the fore. The net is an interactive medium and it would be essential to enhance the brand experience. One crucial difference with television will be that for a surfer switching over will be just a click away. The challenge is to prevent him making that click.