Wanted: A single advertising currency on the net

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 18, 2002
Without agreement on how best to track net advertising, newer technologies and newer ways of targeting net users emerge

Everybody is logging on. The question is how to target them?

According to NASSCOM, though India still lags behind stalwarts like China, Japan and Taiwan in terms of Internet usage, the country has over 2 million subscribers (and more than 5.5 million users). And the estimated figure by 31 December 2003 is a whopping 50 million users. "Incredibly overhyped last year, and incredibly undervalued now, the Internet is growing," says George Zacharias, chief operating officer, Satyam Infoway.

Some companies have come up with technology to accurately target the Internet user. Others are widening their range so that they can target almost anyone who wanders near a cyber café.

Satyam, for example, has invested in a whole chain of cyber cafes, where offline advertising can be done, and is trying to hit the surfer at all points - the cyber café, the ISP, and the site itself. "It is a pity that Internet advertising has become associated with banner advertising. Brand equity must become involved with the net. What we are looking at is integrating our offline and online operations seamlessly," says Vivek Bali, president (portals), Satyam Infoway. In sharp contrast, is the manner in which Delhi-based IOL Technologies is looking to target net users.

One of the most irritating aspects of net advertising are pop-ups, which interfere with a net surfer's browsing - sometimes even shutting down his page, or changing his start page. On the other hand, banner ads are rarely clicked on by surfers. IOL Technologies feel that the answer is to address the surfer when he is not actually browsing - when he is waiting for his system to log on to the Internet, or when he disconnects from the net, but does not shut down the computer. The company has developed iSpot, a software application that can be integrated with Internet dialer, and which ensures that ads featured using iSpot, appear only at the above times, and not when the surfer is actually surfing.

The company has successfully sold the system to MTNL and VSNL. Company executives argue that the technology is different from other ways of advertising on the Internet primarily on account of its trigger point. "The iSpot comes at a time when the user is open to communication, and the content-rich features of the software will increase user stickiness," says Avdesh Mittal, CEO of IOL Technologies.

The use of trigger points, hopes the company, will do away with the fact that several cyber users - those that use the net merely for e-mail, chatting, or porn - never reach sites where advertisements rest. But is there a way to measure if the ad did serve its purpose?

Companies like IOL Technologies, Jupiter Media Metrix (which has done pioneering research in Internet and new technology analysis and measurement), Yahoo! and others have their own parameters to measure the efficacy of advertising on the net. But the barriers are formidable. The agencies cannot agree on what to do, clients are unwilling to pay, technology is either too precise or too blunt. "All the research that was being evaluated fell short in some respect or other, either in terms of viability or research structure, or costs or the coverage of the study," says Atul Phadnis, who launched Starcom Digital during his stint at Starcom Worldwide, and has grappled with the issues of net advertising for more than two years.

However, with the net growing, and the present churn separating the wheat from the chaff, a single system could come sooner than later. "The obstacles are to do with the fact that advertising on the Internet in India is still in its infancy and has so far not been able to attract the kind of money it should. Plus the Internet industry is going through a lot of upheaval. This will settle during the course of this year and then the serious long-term players can get their heads together and agree to a universal system. As the spends on the Internet grow, this universal system will no longer be something 'nice-to-have'; it will be essential," predicts Deepak Chandnani, country head of Yahoo! India.

At the end of the day, however, a universally agreed system is also a matter of costs. Though the early days of experiment is giving way to more and more viable systems, one major reason why agencies are not willing to shell out the cash is the limited reach of the net. Ironically, an agency would have to pay more for Internet data right now, than it would for TAM or INTAM data.

The hopes for a uniform standard also depend a lot on how the medium progresses. If the Internet reaches the levels of television penetration - courtesy technology like cable access - then the pressure to have a common rating system will reach a crescendo. "As the number of subscribers explode, the pressure from the industry will rise. But this will happen gradually," predicts Amit Ray, executive vice-president, (media), Mudra, and currently vice-president of the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) which is looking at the problem in detail.

The question now is: How soon will that be? © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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