CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/THE INTERNET ADVERTISING BUREAU - What the online ad industry demands from its trade body. Its critics think the IAB is not doing enough to push the internet to advertisers. Gordon MacMillan reports

The web, we are constantly told, is a young, fast-changing business.

The web, we are constantly told, is a young, fast-changing


And it’s true that things have moved very quickly in the past couple of

years. Investment and e-commerce are flourishing. Online advertising,

however, is not.

This situation has led many in the industry to question the role of the

industry’s trade body, the Internet Advertising Bureau, which, its

critics say, is not doing enough to sell the medium to advertisers.

While ad revenue is growing, the key issue, according to Andrew

Walmsley, head of digital media at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is the failure

to increase the number of brands advertising online. ’Raising the brand

count - getting new brands online - should be one of the main focuses of

the industry,’ he says. ’It will raise credibility for the industry as a


The problem raises its head regularly on these pages as, month after

month, Fletcher Research figures reveal the extent to which the web

still depends on computer and IT companies for its ad revenue. The point

is made yet again by the figures for June, printed below. The top ten is

much the same as one you might have come across 12 months ago. There is

growth elsewhere - particularly among financial services advertisers and

travel companies - but some suggest the unsold advertising inventory

figure on the net could be as high as 85 per cent, a depressing figure

if it is accurate.

In its letter to prospective members, the IAB claims to be devoted

’exclusively to maximising the use and effectiveness of advertising on

the Internet’.

But it appears to have achieved little in the eight months since it was

set up in its present form (having existed previously in other


According to one industry source, no-one is quite sure what the IAB is


Charlie Dobres, the former head of Lowe Digital and now the (part-time)

general secretary of the IAB in the UK, says setting anything up from

scratch is a slow process but, with 40 members now signed up, it is in a

position to go forward using the Radio Advertising Bureau as its


Since launching in 1992, the RAB has managed to turn radio into an

attractive medium for advertisers, pushing its share of all advertising

revenue up by 120 per cent in the past five years to around 3 per


’The RAB is a good model. If we end up being as good, we can be

pleased,’ Dobres says.

So how did the RAB do it? Part of its success is down to its highly

focused strategy, Justin Sampson, the RAB’s operations director,

explains. ’If you are going to do your job properly, you have to know

where you are going,’ he says. ’We focus on the interests of the


Almost as important, however, is the RAB’s staff make-up. It is run by

20 full-time professionals who operate largely independently of its


As a result, they get things done.

The IAB isn’t quite like that. It is a body run by its media owner and

sales house members. It is dominated by committees and it has a

five-point mission statement that spreads its focus pretty thinly:

representing companies engaged in selling advertising; giving members a

forum; providing an industry-wide view; promoting the value of the

internet to advertisers and advertising agencies; and serving as an

educational resource through which members can further their employees’

professional development.

Ian Murphy, commercial development manager at Channel 4, is responsible

for the station’s new media and sits on the IAB executive. He argues

that the criticism is unfair. The industry is being sold, he maintains,

by its members.

’Each media owner is signing up to promote to as wide an audience as

possible the benefits of advertising (on the internet) as an adjunct to

existing media,’ he says.

Agencies respond, however, that they are unlikely to be impressed by the

claims of individual media owners and sales houses.

Hal Pearson, the media manager at Mediapolis who heads the team buying

space for Microsoft and Intel online, says: ’Media owners’ research is

based on their own figures. It is not an industry standard and that is

what the IAB has failed to deliver. The RAB advises you on how to use

Rajar research. It is difficult to get anyone, apart from IT clients or

those with a technical message, to advertise online without


There are other crucial issues that some in the industry say the IAB

should be addressing: such as the practice of media owners bypassing

agencies to approach clients direct and the short-term focus on making a

sale at the expense of delivering on promises.

According to one industry source: ’Joe Seller says to a client ’we can

do this many numbers this week’ in the full and certain knowledge that

he cannot deliver anything like that. But if there is a pounds 10,000

budget up for grabs, he will get a bigger share of it. Maybe he will

have to give some of it back but maybe he won’t. The problem is that

clients get pissed off and those who do dip their toe in the water get

the impression that it is not very professional.’

This is what web advertising seems to suffer from most. Of course, there

are many professional outfits operating in the market but, until the

industry as a whole is able to present itself to clients and agencies in

a more professional light, its growth will be stunted.