Internet Ads Cut Both Ways

September 2, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — With so many companies today trying to get messages to consumers, many are bound to get lost in the shuffle. So the key becomes finding the right avenue to reach a target audience.

The Web is becoming one of those avenues and although powerful, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Charlie McGrath, creative director of Structure Interactive, said the biggest challenge in working with clients is educating them on the methods of marketing that will work for them.

“One advantage of the Web used to be touted as the way to be a part of the global marketplace,” said McGrath. “Well, that is great, but some places don’t need to be in the global marketplace. What good is it going to do Harri’s Pizza to be able to sell pizza to people in the Netherlands? In some places 9 to 5 is OK and 24/7 is not necessary.”

And while McGrath admits that the Web can be used to portray different strengths, he added that determining proper use of the marketing tool is essential.

“Someone like Harri’s Pizza might just want to be able to put hours and a menu up for many people who can have that information right at their fingertips,” he said. “Being able to ship pizza isn’t really going to be a viable option for them, so a simple site with maybe one or two pages is going to be the way they would want to go.”

Another thing to keep in mind, McGrath said, is that consumers search the Web differently than they search other media. The Web is very task driven and it also has the ability to provide different information to different consumers, depending on what they are looking for.

For some companies, what wins awards and makes a flashy show is what will work for them, but for most it is about reaching potential customers in a purposeful manner.

The problem, McGrath said, is that many advertising agencies do not have a background in interactive media and some get in over their heads on interactive projects.

“Many companies know they need to be on the Web but they don’t know why,” said McGrath. “When you are dealing with someone who doesn’t really know the depth of the Web or doesn’t understand the power and targeted impact it can have, it can be misused and end up costing the customer a lot for nothing.”

As an example, McGrath said Structure Interactive recently reworked a Web site for Dow Corning, its largest customer, to better promote several niche areas the company serves.

The site had a platform that was developed to interface with various types of data. The site gives Dow the option to use the platform for data on anything from polystyrene to Styrofoam craft projects, giving depth to the site and to the company.

“Depth is a very important element since every Web user is different,” said McGrath. “It is also only possible to do through the Web, not any other form of media. You need to provide that for people so that they have the option of getting as much information as they want or as little as they want and spending hours searching a site or minutes. There is value for everyone; it’s just in how you use it.”

Another advantage, McGrath said, is the ability to market with a specific focus.

Targeting clientele often goes beyond just getting the message out to the right group of people; it also includes getting the message out the right way. McGrath said many sites look to be technology savvy and then fail because 90 percent of its users can’t access the high tech software required to be able to run the site.

“In this sense it is again not that different from other types of media in the fact that it has to be written, there has to be a message and you have to get the message to the right people and reach those people in the right manner,” said McGrath. “By that you have to know who your audience is and know what types of flashy programs they do or do not have access to, and how far you want to go to make it look good vs. how far you want to go to make it functional. Your return on investment is what you are looking for in the end.”

One option McGrath sees as a poor ROI is placement of banner ads. He said many Web surfers often develop what has been coined “banner ad blindness,” where the consumer has learned how to tune out that part of the Web site or a way to navigate around it.

While some companies choose to go that route, the industry is now trying to standardize the market by developing standard layouts, approaches and costs.

“Advertising and marketing on the Web has an antagonistic relationship with the Web surfer,” said McGrath. “We are fighting for their attention and in effect every little bit helps, even if it’s just name recognition.”

Advertising and marketing firms still are trying to convince customers that the Web is a viable advertising medium, because many see it as a source of information only.

“The Web can be an extremely viable option for advertising if used in the proper manner and targeted at the right audience,” said McGrath. “And, yes, we are fighting for the same advertising dollars as other mediums. But it is also important to remember that there is a right and wrong place for everyone and for many that may turn out to be the Internet.”           

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