It is amazing how things can seem obvious once someone else has
thought of them. They become the received wisdom, the accepted practice,
In the brave new world of the internet, however, there is very little
accepted practice. As a result, mistakes are often made and, at times,
it can seem like the most basic of marketing rules are being
What, for example, would you think of a retail outfit which opened a new
store in your area but did no advertising whatsoever to alert you to the
fact? None of us would expect the marketing director responsible to be
long in his or her job. And yet it is heralded as a breakthrough when
companies begin advertising their websites on the internet.
Such was the reaction to Fletcher Research’s UK Internet Survey, which
signalled a ’major shift in attitude towards online advertising’, to
quote our story. What’s going on? Did people really think they could
attract web users to their sites without advertising?
I believe most people do understand that the web is not so different
from ’traditional’ media. The similarities are just as important as the
differences and, in principle, normal rules apply. But, in reality, they
have difficulty in knowing which rules to apply to which situations. The
trick is to make the right comparisons with the ’normal’ non-virtual
world we’re familiar with.
For a long time, it was assumed that you applied the same rules to a
website as you did to an ad. What the Fletcher study shows is that, over
the past year, people have come to understand that this is wrong. You
can compare websites to lots of things - shops, cafes, TV programmes -
but not ads, for the simple reason that internet users have to choose to
access a website.
And suddenly this has become common sense. But on the internet, common
sense is being reinvented all the time. Take, for example, The
Guardian’s current banner campaign for its Unlimited series of
As an online newspaper, how would you approach banner ads for your
Common sense tells you that they serve the same function as tactical ads
for your (print) newspaper and that they should therefore be approached
in the same way: brief your agency to knock off a few ads and your media
buyers to use their influence to secure you some last-minute space.
The Guardian, however, has taken a different view.
It is approaching tactical banners not as ads but as magazine
cover-lines. As such, they are written by journalists, turned around in
about an hour by designers, and put up on four or five search engine
sites every day. Thus, on the day that the entire European Commission
resigned, The Guardian’s banner read: ’What’s happened to Santer’s
This is exactly the sort of copy you’d expect on a cover rather than in
an ad. You don’t find it in ads because the article in question is not
close enough at hand to make it appropriate. But, wherever you are on
the internet when you see a banner, you are only a click away from the
So it’s entirely appropriate. In fact, it’s downright obvious. Or at
least it will be in a few months’ time when everyone’s doing it.