OPINION: MILLS ON ... DOTCOM ADVERTISERS

’The reason you don’t understand the ads is because you’re not in the target market.’ It’s not until someone says it to you that you realise that this is one of the most hurtful phrases in the advertising lexicon, implying either that you are too old or too stupid, sometimes both.

’The reason you don’t understand the ads is because you’re not in

the target market.’ It’s not until someone says it to you that you

realise that this is one of the most hurtful phrases in the advertising

lexicon, implying either that you are too old or too stupid, sometimes

both.



But that was exactly the reaction of Campaign’s esteemed former youth

correspondent, Mairi Clark, when I complained to her that I couldn’t

understand the boo.com ads, the ones which feature a group of strangely

clad geeks and nerds attempting to turn themselves into sports

jocks.



In fact, when we sat down to watch the ads together, it turned out that

she couldn’t understand them either which, as I’m sure you will agree,

was a big relief. (I should add that a nice planner at BMP has explained

the strategy to me and I now understand it, although I should also point

out that this service is not available to the general public.)



I mention boo, however, not to pick on it but to make a wider point -

which is that the standard of advertising in the dotcom sector appears

to be almost universally bad: MSN, AOL, BOL, Monsterboard. Charlotte

Street, Handbag, Demon - go on, name me a decent dotcom ad if you can.

How many do you hear on the radio or see on 48-sheets and in the press?

Even if you remember the ad you think: ’Hmm, what the hell was that

about?’



Yet considering the amount of money and talent being thrown at the ads,

this is a bit of a puzzle. A colleague, the editor of Revolution,

believes that this is because most dotcom ads try to convey

interactivity and fail because this is impossible to do it in

two-dimensional media.



I think the problem is more fundamental - in fact, I’d say it’s inherent

in the sector itself. Most dotcom companies consider themselves to be

iconoclasts, breaking up the old world order and ushering in a new one.

They want ads that reflect themselves as innovators and radicals - ie

edgy, cool, different, quirky or achingly hip. In fact, this self-image

leads the dotcom companies down the wrong path - from the consumers’

point of view the only real differences between them and their physical

counterparts concern price, convenience and, in some cases,

interactivity.



Producing advertising that is obscure, exclusive or suggests a giant

in-joke must be counter-productive.



Nor - and this is the crucial bit - do they necessarily have the time to

build an online brand the slow way, which is the best most can hope for

so long as they produce minority-interest advertising. That is because

most dotcoms need awareness, eyeballs and sales right now. Indeed, their

funding prospects may well depend on their achievements over the

Christmas season - hence the splurge in dotcom ads.



The answer for most must surely be to behave - with all that implies in

advertising and marketing terms - as though they are mass-market brands,

not quirky niche players. So let’s forget the poncy positioning stuff

and have some ads that actually sell now.



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