Take a ride up any escalator on the London Underground and you see
more dotcom ads than you can shake a stick at. Turn on the television or
flick through a magazine and there’s more of the same.
And that’s the problem. There are so many dotcoms launching at the same
time, all with heavy adspends, that there’s a risk of consumers
shrugging their shoulders and ignoring the lot of them.
Dotcom overload was highlighted by the news that America’s leading
financial website, The Motley Fool, has appointed Michaelides & Bednash
to its European media planning account (Campaign, 28 January).
M&B, which trades on its lateral approach to media planning, picked up
the account because its experts were judged to be the most honed to help
a client stand out from the dotcom clutter.
Graham Bednash, the founder of M&B, says the novelty of the internet
needs novel approaches: ’Applying the model of the past 50 years to this
new media may not be the way to go. The channels that will be strong are
WAP (wireless application protocol - a global standard for developing
applications over wireless communications networks, such as internet
access over mobile phones) and interactive TV. You need a new
In some respects M&B’s task is rendered easier by the nature of its new
client. The Motley Fool publishes books and syndicates information on
radio and in the newspapers - it contacts consumers from unexpected
areas, all to support its flagship website.
But the dotcom proliferation not only provides challenges for media
planners. Creative agencies may be jumping for joy at this much-needed
cash injection to above-the-line spending, but their ads still have to
What makes it more difficult is that clients have only a few months to
establish their brands. And, with the internet, clients are able to
measure exactly how effective the advertising is by monitoring the
number of page impressions.
And then there are the backers. Bednash says: ’The venture capitalists
funding the marketing all want quick results. There’s a desire to be
Greg Delaney, chairman of Delaney Lund Knox Warren, highlights the other
pressure in dotcom advertising: ’It’s direct response advertising. It’s
more measurable than any other advertising produced in history except,
possibly, call stimulation for BT.’
But many agencies are responding with very enigmatic advertising.
CharlotteStreet.com, Associated Newspaper’s site, which launched with a
campaign by BMP DDB, is one example. Neither the ads, nor the name of
the site, tell consumers what it does.
Larry Barker, creative director at BMP, says: ’The idea was to break
away from the techie and say this is real issue stuff. The site sets out
to deal with real issues.’
There are other examples: Delaney Lund’s launch campaign for IPC
Electric’s site, BeMe.com, shows women in various poses and uses the
line, ’Be whatever you want to be @ BeMe.com’. Consumers are none the
wiser as to what’s on the site. The case is much the same for most of
boo.com’s launch work, also by BMP.
The idea is to intrigue and, in the case of Boo, to entertain, but most
agree that such ads risk boring the consumer - because there are so many
of them - and also risk adding to consumers’ bewilderment about
Richard Pinder, managing director of Ogilvy & Mather, explains: ’If you
meet someone at a party who’s too clever by half and too enigmatic, you
can’t be arsed and walk off. If the person is open and friendly, it’s a
His point is echoed by Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas
’They (internet advertisers) are all doing this weird shit. They won’t
say what it is that they’re advertising because they think it’s cool. So
the consumer says, ’what the fuck’, and can’t be arsed with it,’ he
Among the challenges facing ad agencies is overcoming and, somehow,
incorporating the fear and mystique of the internet itself. Bednash
explains: ’They (dotcoms) are more like media brands than they are
services or FMCG brands, so trying to explain what they are in one line
is extra hard.’
Barker agrees. ’You have to do something extraordinary, which is fine if
you get to the brand behind the mechanic. It should be an ad about the
brand,’ he says.
The advertising has to work hard on its own. Greg Delaney says: ’It’s
not like consumers will be reminded at the supermarket shelf. These
brands have no retail presence. There is no access for consumers other
than the marketing.’
So which ads meet the challenges? Lucian Hudson, editor-in-chief of
Justpeople.com, which is developing its launch campaign with Leagas
Delaney, says: ’It’s imperative to position clearly and state clearly
what role you’re playing up front.’
Pinder likes BOL (’love books, love BOL’) and Lastminute.com because
they say what they do. Others cite letsbuyit.com for the same
Dotcom launches have a window of opportunity in the UK, which won’t be
open for long. James Craft, chief business fool (yes, he really is) at
The Motley Fool, says: ’There is still opportunity in the UK to get
above the noise level. There’s not in the US, where every second ad is
Marketers and agencies would do well to tell potential customers what
they have to sell, not leave them puzzling over the ads.