THE NET EFFECT: What makes a good online ad? - Can banner ads really work? And just how important is the creative treatment? Yahoo!'s Lee Thompson and HHCL's Alan Young take a look at success stories

Although I use the internet every day, I am no expert on online

advertising. Which I suspect makes me a pretty good candidate to review

something like this.



I've seen a lot of online work that is lame and unoriginal. Too many

banner ads are simply a tired pun. Too many strategies are garbled and

badly thought through. While I offer no solution to the problem here, I

am certain that the answer isn't to pretend it's good when it so often

plainly isn't. So, apologies before I start. As far as possible I plan

to review this stuff using the same criteria as I would for a TV

commercial or a 48-sheet poster. Is it memorable? Is it original? Does

it change my view of the world in some way?



First up is nPower, which sponsored the Yahoo! Ashes website. For

cricket fans I'm sure it's pretty involving stuff. The site offers Man

of the Match polls, a nifty cricket game and the opportunity to win or

buy Ashes memorabilia - although I'm not sure who really wants to win

Shane Warne's cricketing box.



Rather than just shoving a banner on the site and expecting viewers to

click through, this gives people a way to interact with the nPower

brand.



It's safe and solid rather than inspiring, but nPower is a utilities

company, so safe and solid was probably part of the brief.



Next is a piece of video for the Mini. Before being aired anywhere else,

the Mini Martians commercial was streamed on Yahoo!'s home page. It's a

media first apparently, so well done for that.



The spot ran beside buttons inviting you to find out more about the

Mini, its dealers and its history. It's a nice example of using the

internet to beef up the profile of a commercial before it makes its

offline debut.



However, I have a feeling that the idea could have been pushed further,

perhaps by playing more of a game with viewers, or introducing some sort

of teaser element.



Third is Amazon and its efforts to drive clickthrough to its

website.



When you use the search facility on Yahoo!, a merchant button pops up

referring you to Amazon.co.uk. Amazon is a great brand. It always

manages to make each customer feel like they're receiving personal

service and recommendations. While merchant buttons aren't a new, or a

particularly surprising idea, I do admire Amazon's focused approach to

what its brand is all about.



And now for Pepsistuff.com - a microsite created in conjunction with

Yahoo! The idea is that kids collect Pepsi bottle caps, each with a code

number printed inside it. They then go to the site and enter the code,

either winning something or earning points that are redeemable on Pepsi

gear. The content could be a bit more original but it's compelling,

involving and perfectly targeted at its audience. It came as no surprise

to learn that 2.5 million people registered at Pepsistuff.com in the

first two months.



Respect to Pepsi for appreciating that consumers don't consume online

advertising any more eagerly than they would a long copy ad in a

newspaper.



You need to give them a reason to visit the site.



The Levi's online offering extends the "Twisted" TV campaign online in

an involving, relevant and intrusive way.



It works like this. Levi's created a new advertising space on error

pages across the Yahoo! Europe network So when URLs are incorrectly

entered, Levi's branded error messages appear, interrupting your day

with comments like 'you're always in such a hurry' and 'I know what

you're looking for'.



This is an idea that really exploits the uniqueness of the online

medium, rather than just migrating an offline idea onto the internet.

Crucially, I felt entertained, not advertised to.



And finally some Yahoo! banner advertising attempting to drive traffic

to Yahoo! Sport. They've created tactical ads that respond to the latest

happenings in sport. So when Beckham recently shaved off half an

eyebrow, a banner ad appeared saying, 'Sorry David. Two Eyebrows needed

to play in my team'.



What's neat about this is the way it demonstrates how responsive online

media can be. You can't change TV, press or posters at a moment's

notice.



But you can online.



Online advertising still has a long way to go. The internet offers lots

of advantages over offline media, but for whatever reason, they aren't

being exploited anything like often enough.



When man first discovered fire, the response must have been something

like 'Wow that's amazing. Now what the hell do we do with it?'

Creatively, it feels like the internet presents a similar dilemma.



But we mastered fire. And goddamit, we'll master online advertising one

day too. - ALAN YOUNG IS A CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT YAHOO!'S AGENCY HHCL &

PARTNERS



It is no surprise that creativity is under scrutiny on the internet -

marketers have rarely designed for smaller spaces. And the issues of how

space is used and understanding the context are critical.



Then there are the internet's interactive capabilities, which mean

creativity can surpass traditional boundaries of arresting attention,

engaging users and progressively converting prospects into

customers.



Creativity is of paramount importance in all media. But the issue with

the internet is that it takes its place alongside other factors that are

of equal significance in determining advertising success. These include

the ability to target based on real-time behavioural characteristics, to

rotate copy in a sequential way, deliver a traditional audience but with

permission, demographic and behavioural filters layered on top so that

the right message can be delivered to the right person at the right

time, every time.



All media is driven by ideas and promises that engage. But the internet

provides additionally unparalleled targeting capabilities. In a lot of

instances, the creative work itself may look quite unexceptional but so

long as it is well placed, from an audience and context point of view,

it can be very effective. The internet is an embryonic medium that is

constantly evolving. The IAB has recently endorsed new ad formats and

this trend will continue as we learn more about how to communicate with

internet users.



A key driver for successful internet advertising stems from how the

"creativity" is arrived at. How many campaigns have been created and

conceived at a broad media level that envisage an execution across

internet media? All too often what you'll find is that the creative

brief is done with one medium, usually TV, in mind.



One of the internet's few landmark advertising success stories was a

Levi's campaign, which was effective because it was conceived as a

media-neutral idea that was translated for different media channels,

including the internet, to fulfil a clearly defined marketing

objective.



As we are dealing with smaller sizes, we sometimes rely too heavily on

sensationalising the message by having on-screen acrobatics. Some brands

are not meant to turn upside-down, inside-out, grunt, shake the screen

and then whimper away into a side column.



We ran a successful campaign for nPower. The main objective was to

deepen relationships with users and leverage their offline activity

online.



One element was an interactive cricket game that was played by more than

80,000 people, helping nPower acquire customers 60 per cent cheaper than

it could via other media.



Media owners online can offer a full spectrum of communications

solutions on one website: keyword buys, search engine listings,

behavioural targeting, permission-based e-mail, sponsorship and

promotions. The quality of internet audiences has never been in doubt

but now the volumes and choice make the internet stand out, offering

marketers integrated media opportunities on a single medium.



Against the backdrop of what the internet can offer, creativity is just

one of many ingredients, not the primary one. - LEE THOMPSON IS THE

COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR OF YAHOO! UK & IRELAND.



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