It used to be so much simpler. I started out in this business as a young account exec in the mid-80s - not that long ago, I hope you'll agree - but marketing back then was almost unrecognisable from what it has become today.
One of my first roles was on the Radio Rentals account at Collett Dickenson Pearce. It was my job to pop downstairs to the media department (remember them?) to discuss the latest plan. For my opposite number there, media selection was also a straightforward process. Then it was a case of agreeing which combination of TV (which meant ITV), press (which meant the news pages of national newspapers - this was before sections) and posters would work best. The rest of the media process (if I'm not doing them too great a disservice) seemed to involve a lot of shouting at people down telephone lines to secure the best rates.
As marketers are aware, things have got a good deal more complicated.
Media folk don't have to shout quite so much because there's far more choice in the market. Their challenge now is a more cerebral one - how to get the right mix out of the multitude of channels available to them, embracing both offline and online activity.
Back then, it was all about reach - how quickly you could expose your message to as many people as possible. These days, increasingly, it's just as much about depth. Media fragmentation means you can't reach lots of people as quickly as you once could - but what you can do, particularly via interactive media such as the web, is talk to them for longer. And marketers are beginning to put more and more value on this.
Online marketing, therefore, is no longer restricted to the assorted formats that pop up and interrupt your journey around the internet. Increasingly, both offline and online advertising is being used to drive traffic to a site that has been specifically designed to engage consumers in activities that support the main thrust of the campaign.
Indeed, one very tangible sign of the online recovery has been the appearance of the web address at the end of a TV ad, at the foot of a poster, press ad, even on pieces of direct mail. And the chances are that many of these web addresses will point to a dedicated campaign site.
So what makes a successful campaign site and, just as importantly, how should it fit into a wider marketing campaign?
Having been involved in two of last year's biggest product launches, for Lever Faberge's Lynx Pulse variant and for the Sony Ericsson T610 mobile phone, I thought I would share some of our experiences from these two campaigns, both of which had a campaign site as the hub of their online activity.
Now, I said earlier that marketing has changed beyond recognition. But one thing that will never change is the need for a clear brief. So the starting point is to establish exactly what the site is trying to achieve.
There are essentially three possible reasons for visiting a campaign site: entertainment, useful information and the chance of a freebie. From a consumer's perspective, this could take the form of interactive content, such as a game that generates excitement around the brand; helpful information that provides more detail about a product or service; or access to offers or competitions.
In the case of Lynx Pulse, entertainment was the name of the game. Music was a fundamental campaign ingredient, so the site allowed visitors to listen to various mixes of Make Luv. They could also download sound and vision screensavers and wallpapers. What really lifted the site, though, was the online creative idea - converting the geeky, dancing guy from the TV ad into a "dotman", formed out of the elements of the Pulse logo.
It caught on to such a degree that the digital imagery was incorporated into later versions of the TV ad.
With the T610, the brief was very different. The site launched several months before the above-the-line work with a brief to excite interest in Sony Ericsson's new mobile phone-cum-digital camera. It also needed to have a long life of its own.
The idea was to encourage visitors to explore the possibilities of mobile phone photography. Visitors were invited to upload their own photos to enter monthly themed competitions. Thus, the site became involving for those who did so, while also generating content for visitors.
The site also had to pull off the trick of being integrated with the other campaign elements. This is another critical ingredient for the successful campaign website. Pulse did it by virtue of the idea itself, but, with the T610, integration was achieved both in the visual design (done in close collaboration with the lead agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty) and by setting photographic themes that reflected the colour contrast inherent in the black-and-silver design of the phone. Examples included "dark, light" and "fire and ice".
So did these sites work? This brings me on to the critical area of measurement.
As with any form of online activity, a campaign site provides the opportunity to accurately track user behaviour. So establishing clear measurement criteria at the start is another mandatory on the check list.
With Pulse, our key focus was on the number of visits to the site and the time spent there. The use of the digital work within the TV ads speaks volumes for the results. As for the T610, getting users to come back time and again was critical in order to maintain the site's life. In fact, more than 20 per cent of first-time visitors came back - a very high score for a campaign site - and its life was extended from six to nine months.
So what are the lessons from all this? First, that you need a clear purpose for the work. Second, that there's no substitute for strong ideas and great executions. Third, that these ideas should be intimately linked to those in other media, but distinct in their detail. And fourth, that the value of the site should be measured and provision should be made to adapt or prolong work that is particularly successful.
All of which tends to suggest that things haven't actually changed that much at all since the mid-80s. The fundamentals of great marketing remain the same, after all. Even if there's not as much shouting.
Mark Collier is the managing director of Dare.