Close-Up: Live Issue/Dotcom Advertising - Are dotcom ads too enigmatic for their own good?/The medium needs to talk to its audiences properly, Francesca Newland writes

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.

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

stand out.

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

famous quickly.’

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., 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,, shows women in various poses and uses the

line, ’Be whatever you want to be @’. Consumers are none the

wiser as to what’s on the site. The case is much the same for most of’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

all-things internet.

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

different story.’

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, 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 because

they say what they do. Others cite 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.


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