The Online Essays: Introduction

The phrase "new media" is looking pretty tired nowadays. For a start, the first banner ad hit the web way back in 1994. And, a bit like New Labour, Britpop or the other fads to emerge in the 90s, it hangs like dead skin over something that has changed so dramatically since it was invented.

The "new" is baggage, dragging up the negative associations it has been trying to bury since it imploded in 2000: naive, immature, vulnerable, unprofessional. Semantics aside, the point is that after a tumultuous decade, the internet has at last earned the right to be called a mainstream medium and deserves to treated like one.

We book flights, shop, auction, move money and gamble on the internet to the point we couldn't imagine another way. Even finding love online is no longer considered the preferred method of the sad and lonely, apparently. Ask the millions who've signed up on match.com.

The web is now the third most-used medium and the fastest-growing by far. Tough decisions have been made to make the internet safer and less of a pain to use, too. MSN shut its chat rooms to protect young users from cyber stalkers and rivals followed suit. And the recent spate of viruses prompted media owners to consider charging users to send e-mails - a move, they estimate, that could cut spam by 80 per cent.

So much is happening that the advertising community is finding it ever harder to dismiss online as a baffling underworld populated by geeks.

Its enviable measurability has been there from the start and at long last we are seeing creative executions on the internet that actually add to the online experience. Soon the days of swearing like a Russian sailor as your cursor chases a pop-up could be over as the likes of AOL and MSN phase them out of their portfolio of ad formats.

In their place, boosted by the spread of broadband and wireless, a new breed of formats is emerging that give digital agencies more of a chance to flex their creative muscles. Let's just hope that agencies choose the type that engage rather than infuriate, otherwise online advertising could so easily end up back where it started.

Every advertising channel is becoming digitised, from outdoor to direct, and the penny is dropping that online is an inevitability, not an option. Online is now a 2 per cent medium - double the size of cinema and with radio in its sights. The following pages offer help and guidance for a business that is going digital quicker than it thinks.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).