Analysis: News Analysis - Dotcoms rewrite the rulebook in the scramble to build brands/The battle to be noticed is leading to some unorthodox solutions

In their unseemly haste to build brands, dotcom companies are rewriting the rules of engagement between advertisers and media owners.

In their unseemly haste to build brands, dotcom companies are

rewriting the rules of engagement between advertisers and media


The first sign that the game was changing came when Channel 5 began

swapping airspace for equity in dotcom ventures. Under this arrangement,

the broadcaster effectively becomes a business partner in the company,

also writing its media plan. And as Channel 5 has a vested interest, the

dotcom is unlikely to be given any duff slots.

So far, Channel 4 has not entered into any similar deals. London sales

manager Michael Parker says the channel remains ’wary’ due to the risk

involved. But he also points out that Channel 4 doesn’t have any spare

capacity to trade for equity, while Channel 5 does.

Away from the broadcast arena, there are signs the equity-for-space

arrangement may spread to other media. JC Decaux group sales director

Spencer Berwin confirms the company is talking to several dotcoms about

similar deals, while Guardian Newspapers’ deputy ad director Stuart

Taylor says the idea is ’sound in principle’.

But all this bartering highlights the major problem facing dotcom

advertisers: they have to build brands in record time, and not all of

them have the cash or the expertise to do it. Parker comments: ’Some of

them are desperate to build brands, to get on air or to be seen on

posters, so they’re rushing into the market with some pretty awful

creative and not much in the way of a brand identity.’

Parker argues that most start-ups are run by people from technical or

financial backgrounds. Hence the need to form partnerships with the

likes of Channel 5, or poach the best brains from traditional media.

Others suggest that many dotcoms’ idea of a media strategy is to

advertise as much as possible in London, to catch the eye of the City

and attract yet more investors.

Taylor admits the dotcoms have a challenge on their hands. ’There are

many brands launching at once and the consumer may become confused,’ he

comments. ’In a way, it’s up to sales people to help them come up with

ideas that will achieve cut-through.’

But JC Decaux’s Berwin disagrees that dotcoms are using advertising

’without due care and attention’. ’Getting across their USPs is a major

challenge, but by and large I’ve been impressed with what they’ve

achieved, given the enormity of the task.’

Unsurprisingly, dotcoms insist they are getting sound advice from the

best traditional creative and media agencies. Carl Lyons, marketing

manager at, says his company has used a ’very smart’ and

cost-effective transport media campaign.

It may be that dotcoms don’t have time to be afraid of breaking some of

the established rules. As Taylor puts it: ’If you’re building a brand

from scratch, you have to be ruthless in your targeting and imaginative

in your execution. Only the smartest will survive.’

Total adspend by new-media outfits

Advertiser     pounds (’99)   Agency

Egg                   16.8    New PHD

Dell                  12      TMD Carat

Freeserve              9.8    Walker Media

Arcadia                8.1    Various

Amazon                 4.2    Total Media

EasyJet                3.74   Matters Media

Boo                    2.33   BMP OMD

Smile                  1.5    TCS North/iLevel

CharlotteSt            1.3    BMP OMD

Lastminute             1.14   New PHD

Sources: Fletcher Research/AC Nielsen MMS

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