OPINION: How adland can learn from the Louise Woodward case - These days, accessing the Net is just child’s play, William Howells says, but few people - including agency staff - see the need for effective planning of the medium

By WILLIAM HOWELLS, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 November 1997 12:00AM

No newspaper in the country could resist splashing the story across the front pages: ’Judgment on the Net’ hailed the Mirror; ’Louise in limbo as world awaits ruling on Internet’ lamented the Daily Mail; and even the Daily Telegraph reported on page one, ’Woodward to learn fate on Internet’.

No newspaper in the country could resist splashing the story across

the front pages: ’Judgment on the Net’ hailed the Mirror; ’Louise in

limbo as world awaits ruling on Internet’ lamented the Daily Mail; and

even the Daily Telegraph reported on page one, ’Woodward to learn fate

on Internet’.



The headlines from those pages were music to my ears. At last the

Internet had shown its true potential as a worldwide communications

medium. What’s been obvious to thousands of Internet advocates who have

made great progress in educating the public, the business world and the

media had finally hit home.



But what’s most interesting about Judge Hiller Zobel’s decision to speak

via the Internet is that he placed a lawful decision on a lawless

medium.



Yet an even deeper irony is that when the Internet first hit the

headlines it was as a communicator of vast amounts of technical

information from academics and boffins who had mastered the realm of

http://www when we were all grappling with how to use the latest

whizz-bang fax machine.



Then the public became involved and the Internet became a medium for

airing one’s views, no matter how radical.



So those who put ’Louise Woodward’, into their search engine on the day

the judge’s decision was announced were faced with hundreds of home

pages, some calling for her to be released and for justice to prevail;

others stating they had graphic footage of the alleged incident taking

place; others outlining the girl’s life from birth to imprisonment.



The question must be asked whether the Internet’s application - and the

public’s perception of it - has come full circle. Is the future of the

Internet back to relaying the information we all wish to receive? Or

will fact and fiction - with little distinction from one to the other -

coexist side by side on the Internet happily ever after?



Judge Zobel, a self-confessed techno-dinosaur, was persuaded by his son

to use the Internet (that boy should be in advertising) based on his

knowledge that, within Boston, the Internet is one of the most popular

communications media. Given the international interest generated in the

case, the choice could not have been more fitting.



But what will become of other media if the powers that be (in this

instance, Judge Zobel) decide the Internet is the only distribution

channel necessary?



Granted, in this instance, he e-mailed the information to 30 designated

newsrooms. But that is merely a technicality. Tough questions will be

asked in the newsrooms of radio and TV (previously deemed the most

immediate media available) and newspapers about the future if news is

soon to be distributed via the Internet - and the public follows.



There are questions to be asked of advertisers also who are only just

beginning to realise the sponsorship and marketing potential of the

Internet.



From an advertising perspective, the most valuable lesson to learn from

the entire event is that of planning.



The Internet service provider (ISP) of the www.lawyersweekly.com Website

crashed shortly after the papers hit the newsstand. Worldwide, all those

busy execs with their PCs attached to the Web just couldn’t resist

having a look and overloaded the ill-prepared ISP.



Herein lies the lesson. While it is highly unlikely that any ad linked

with an Internet address would create the amount of traffic Woodward’s

fate did, it’s crucial we remember the Internet is a communications and

marketing medium like any other. It must be timed, planned and released

in harmony with all other media.



Otherwise, the consumer is still left in the dark.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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