In the great Web migration, are enough advertisers following along?

Now that more consumers are viewing video online -- as opposed to watching traditional TV -- why isn't advertising catching up faster? Experts believe there are still some creative strategies yet to be discovered.

The viewing public might be migrating in droves from TV, newspapers, and magazines to the Web, but where's the ad money to help the Web sites stay afloat? In pondering this question at this week's OnMedia NYC conference, executives of online services and ad agencies cited needs for finding the right employees, technologies, and business approaches to address a tangled mare's nest of related issues.

The average amount of money an individual industrial-class advertiser spends each year to reach a single household via the Web, according to Toman Geffs, managing director of the Jordan Edmiston Group, is $254 per household per year. Meanwhile, that same advertiser spends $446 per year to reach that same household via newspaper.

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On the surface, you might think that's good news for online media, which sounds less expensive. But if you're in the advertising delivery business, you might be wondering why advertisers remain willing to spend $200 more per year per household for a medium that many contend isn't nearly as efficient or effective as online.

But on the other hand, maybe the Web's advertising number aren't really all that bad, after all, countered Omnicom Vice Chairman Bruce Nelson.

According to Nelson, Internet advertising is already faring much better as a slice of the pie against network TV than cable television did during its earliest years. This is true, he said, even though companies are required to create entirely different ads for the Web than for TV broadcasting.

Nelson readily admitted, however, that the traditional advertising approach -- in which agencies told customers, "You're in charge of the messaging, and we'll deliver the eyeballs" -- simply isn't destined for effectiveness on the Web.

Many of the other speakers agreed that advertisers now need to find people, technologies, and business strategies capable of taking advantage of, as well as working within the sometime frustrating constaints of, the newer digital media.

"Agencies are finding it tough to make money [on the Web]," said Michael Leo, president and CEO of the Operative ad agency. "Talent and systems. Both [are] requirements. We need more people who can help us solve these problems."

In terms of strategy, companies should do a better job of serving up ads geared to who a person is, as well as what that person is doing online at any particular point of time, according to some of the panelists.

Jacqueline Corbelli, CEO of Brighline iTV Marketing Specialists, maintained that "context and immediacy" are both critical. If, for instance, a person shopping online for a new house, then the right real estate ads ought to start popping up right away in the person's browser.

Others argued, though, that this kind of highly targeted advertising would require fine-grained explorations of consumers' online behavior across multiple Web sites...and that the hackles of privacy advocates would flare up as a result.

Companies should also step beyond attaching text-based ads to search engine text links, according to some of the presenters. More video ads are needed online, and so are ads tailored to mobile platforms.

"Advertisers are frustrated. They're not getting guidance. Consumers are weaving digital devices into their lives. [But] advertisers are not getting effectiveness," Corbelli said.

When it comes to Web-based video, "creative" personnel at ad agencies need to be able to "compress a story line" into a period as short as three seconds, as opposed to the 30- and 60-second advertising spots of broadcast TV, Nelson noted.

"We are text links," acknowledged Penry Price, vice president of advertising sales at Google, demonstrating that Google's approach can be about as compressed as it gets.

Nelson responded here, though, that search engines do offer an advertising story line, in effect, by enabling Web users to produce their own "stories."

"They're already in the plot line of every story," Nelson illustrated. For instance, if a person is researching an upcoming trip to Bermuda on Google, the "story" is about where the person is going to stay in Bermuda, how he will get to Bermuda, and what he's going to do while he's there.

Google's Price also pointed out that Google has been working for quite some time on gradually extending its services beyond text links. Although Price didn't exactly say so, Google has long offered a capability for searching the Web for photos and other images, for example.

For their part, though, advertisers should focus more on "wrapping context around text links," according to Geffs.

Operative's Leo insisted that the technology involved in Web-based advertising needs to become demystified and standardardized.

"Technical people need to figure out how to 'normalize' technology and fit it into standards -- not technology standards, but business standards," according to Leo.

Leo also noted that, as a marketer, he finds it difficult to explain the pros and cons of various behavioral advertising management systems to non-technical business clients.

But finding "creatives" who can exploit the new media effectively might be the hardest challenge of all, according to the speakers.

Being "digitally ready" is now an absolute requirement for getting a job in the creative arena at the JWT Worldwide ad agency, said Bob Jeffrey, JWT's chairman and CEO.

"With digital natives, the conversation will be different," Jeffrey observed.

JWT recently put together an ad campaign for low-fare air carrier JetBlue that used videos created by contestants on YouTube as the basis for commercials later produced for broadcast TV.

But Omnicom's Nelson replied that familiarity with digital media isn't nearly enough, in and of itself. He predicted that the best Web ads will start to emerge when people already well experienced at communicating ad messages decide to start transferring their skills and knowledge to the new media.

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