PERSPECTIVE: Dotcoms can't afford to ignore the reality of sound advertising

It has taken some time, but someone has at last tried to work out why print advertising for internet businesses is, for the most part, diabolical.

According to a report from the US company Roper Starch Worldwide, called 'What's Wrong with Dotcom ads?', it is because many advertisers are still not paying attention to the basics.

And Roper Starch should know. Its founder, Dr Daniel Starch, pretty much invented the idea of the research company back in 1923. So one of his legacies is that Millward Brown exists, that it earns dollars 250 million a year and that 70 of the UK's 100 largest advertisers use it, giving it more influence on how advertising is done in this country than any agency. Or magazine, even.

So what are these basics that dotcoms are ignoring? Research, for one thing: why should internet entrepreneurs bother with tiresome and costly research when they are convinced that they have already reinvented the wheel with their businesses? Keeping it simple, for another: that harmonious balance between space, visual, headline and type. With no time and complicated business ideas to get across, it's always easier to write a 29-word headline rather than a nine-word one.

With a sense of reality returning to the internet business, there may be a knock-on effect for advertising. Freeserve is the latest hi-tech company to recalculate millions of employee share options after a slump in the company's share price. Some of the flakier internet offerings have collapsed and more will follow. It's too late to dream up another silly name, announce it as an incubator fund, wait for investors to hand over the millions and brief an ad agency with an airy wave of a hand to produce a campaign in 48 hours. Hopefully, this new sense of reality will have the desired effect on standards of advertising in the sector, but we shall see.

It is ironic that the topic of diabolical print advertising occurs in the week in which one of the great names in advertising education has died. In his ten years as the founder and driving force of the now defunct School of Communication Arts, the inimitable John Gillard educated the cream of today's art directors - John Hegarty, Graham Fink, Tiger Savage, Larry Barker and others.

Gillard fought tirelessly in an ultimately doomed attempt to keep the SCA open with scant support from agencies who were prepared to spend plenty of money training account handlers and planners while underinvesting in the most important thing they have to offer, the creative product. It is a sad fact that the SCA would still have been open if London agencies had shown more interest and commitment. But Gillard's fame extended far beyond this advertising village and his influence will not be forgotten.

John Gillard, page 7

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