SPOTLIGHT ON: NEW MEDIA: Can online advertising prove its accountability to clients? - Will the first full research into Web work enhance its status, Richard Cook asks

Accountability can be a wonderful thing. It can hold back the most errant flights of fancy; it can act as a powerful corrective on the worst abuses of power and, above all, advertisers love it.

Accountability can be a wonderful thing. It can hold back the most

errant flights of fancy; it can act as a powerful corrective on the

worst abuses of power and, above all, advertisers love it.

But there’s a problem with accountability, too, and it’s the one problem

with which new media has a more than a merely passing acquaintance.

Sooner or later, you’ve got to be accountable for something.

And so it is with new media, which is supposed to be growing up, and

which is now under pressure from all sides to stand up and be counted,

and start to deliver on its own considerable potential.

That was the thinking behind the launch last week of the first full

survey into Internet advertising, a serious research tool called ’net

works’ sponsored by a trio of heavyweight names including the Network,

the Electronic Telegraph and Millward Brown Interactive. Confirmation

that new media is developing followed, with the Network’s decision to

offer online planning and buying alongside the TV, press and radio

counterparts (Campaign, 23 May).

But simply wishing new media has progressed to a stage where it can be

regarded as another mainstream media discipline doesn’t necessarily make

it so.

’At the moment, new media is advertising and sponsorship driven,’ the

Telegraph’s marketing director, Hugo Drayton, says. ’That may change at

the Electronic Telegraph in the future with the development of

subscriptions, but it’s definitely a fact at the moment. And we have

done well in ad revenue terms, despite the absence of the sort of

research you would take for granted in other media, but we have got to

start delivering big growth. We have to be able to show advertisers that

we can deliver. This research is a huge part of that process.’

It helped that the Network was able to corral its clients, IBM and Ford,

into the research process: it helped too that the research findings made

all the right noises. They confirmed that the IBM and Ford Fiesta ads

that were tested did work, and that the online display advertising could

be said to increase awareness and change consumer predispositions in

favour of the advertised brands. All pretty encouraging stuff, as far as

accountability goes.

’We think that this is an excellent first step towards making Web

advertising really accountable,’ the IBM UK ad manager, Rachael French,

says. ’For IBM, this is an important part of our business and marketing

strategies.’ And with reactions like that, it’s hard to find fault with

the Network’s decision to increase its new-media offering.

But it’s hard to find fault with the move on other grounds as well.

Hitherto online media buying has been merely an extra service that the

agency would be happy to provide for those clients wanting it, which was

fine as long as clients wished to dip their toes in the new medium, but

hardly ideal if they were looking for an integrated advertising


It might have been all right in the first few years of online

advertising for agencies to separate new media into a ghetto. As an

advertisement to clients of their technical competence in new media,

these interactive kingdoms have probably been worthwhile. But the debate

has moved on.

Jane Ostler, the digital communications planner at the Network, says

that the changes they have made are all about creating an integrated

package and not looking at one medium in isolation.

That should also mean advertisers asking for at least the same standards

of accountability from the medium as they already do elsewhere. But then

maybe, as the ’net works’ research helps to illustrate, new media

doesn’t have anything to fear.