It is amazing how things can seem obvious once someone else has thought of them. They become the received wisdom, the accepted practice, common sense.

It is amazing how things can seem obvious once someone else has

thought of them. They become the received wisdom, the accepted practice,

common sense.

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

little helpers?’

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.


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