OPINION: The time has come to start regulating for online media - It is no longer intelligent to act as if online advertising is only a flash in the pan. Web business is booming and it needs proper regulation, Paul Simon believes

By PAUL SIMON, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 June 1997 12:00AM

When asked about the significance of the 1789 French Revolution, Mao Tse Tung replied: ’It’s too soon to say.’

When asked about the significance of the 1789 French Revolution,

Mao Tse Tung replied: ’It’s too soon to say.’



Likewise, the reaction of many UK media cognoscenti to the importance of

online advertising has been at best cautious and at worst

dismissive.



Yet, as John Owen’s article (Campaign, 30 May) demonstrated, the UK

online advertising market is in the early stages of considerable growth

with projected revenues of pounds 86 million by 1999.



A national business of this size is more than a mere pious hope. The US

market has shown growth rates that have lifted the market from less than

pounds 3 million in 1994 to pounds 300 million-plus in 1996. Equally,

Microsoft’s pounds 400-million purchase of the leading Web on TV company

suggests that this market will not fade away.



But it’s not enough for ’Webangelists’ to sit back and wait for the good

times to roll. The market needs a proper direction to its growth. There

are three key conditions that need to be addressed this year to allow

online media to take full advantage of future growth.



First, the principal sales operations need to show a convergence in how

they price Websites. Owen’s article illustrated that the four leading

sales houses had radically different and incompatible ratecard

structures.



Nothing is more likely to have non-specialist planner/buyers in despair

as they attempt to schedule campaigns across such different pricing

systems.



It’s imperative that the main sales houses/publishers achieve a basic

degree of ratecard compatibility at the mid-June meeting of the, as yet

untitled, forum set up for this purpose.



Second, radical changes are needed on the planning and buying side. With

the exception of a few agencies, there appears to be a dislocation

between the online department and mainstream planning/buying. It has

been TSMSi’s experience that a sales proposition may be well received by

the online professionals only to be ’lost’ in internal agency turf wars.

The recent launch of bespoke planning and buying services within some

agency interactive departments will help to improve media

co-ordination.



Third, the market needs a basic code of best practice. The most pressing

issue is that of the independent Web agencies. These are companies which

have begun to diversify out from their core Website design/production

business to incorporate account management and media planning and,

occasionally, buying functions.



In some examples, such as CHBi and AKQA, there is an effective and

innovative union of all these disciplines. In others, the media

planning/buying function is poorly understood in concept and worse in

execution.



A small minority persists in trying to plan and buy for accounts they

simply don’t have. This serves only to undermine both client advertiser

and the Website owner’s confidence in the industry.



In addition, there is the related and potentially explosive issue of how

Web agencies are paid for booking online campaigns, since none are

recognised by the Periodical Publishers Association. The Digital

Marketing Group, comprising 18 online departments of major agencies, is

the best-placed forum to give direction to this issue.



I believe this must be done in such a way that genuinely raises

standards of online planning and buying and codifies the resulting

remuneration structure. It must not operate as an old-fashioned guild

designed to exclude the new kids on the block.



In other media, these issues are an established fact of professional

life. For the emerging online ad market they demand rapid agreement to

allow a mature and successful medium to develop - and it’s not too soon

to say that.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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