05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Doug Weaver Gets Real About Micro sites in a Box

It strikes me that nothing stupid has ever come from the mouth or pen (or keyboard) of Doug Weaver, which is a remarkable record given his 15 years as an Internet sales activist and pundit. This is a more emphatic way of saying that Doug is always saying smart things; but emphatic matters here because what Doug says today in his blog, "The Drift" ("I Got My Micro Site in a Box"), should be pinned, like idiot mittens, to the sleeve of everyone in the Internet business each morning before they head out to wait for the bus to work.

Here's his opener:

"For the last three years I've been on a mission to bury the micro site. The whole idea of building these little Potemkin marketing villages, bolting them onto our domains and then coaxing and cajoling consumers to visit them would be quaint if it weren't so destructive."

Further in Doug says:

"In just about every workshop I conduct I urge -- plead with! -- sellers to end the madness. "There's no reason to do these anymore," says I. "Take the visual assets of your media brand, fold in some creative and product messaging from the sponsor, dump it all into a Flash ad unit and distribute it!"

The part about "distribute it" made instant sense to me but I had to call Doug to make sure I understood who the "Potemkin village" builders were in his description. Publishers, it seemed. But why?

Well, it turns out that online publishers are in the habit of retro-fitting content to meet the special needs of advertisers by building custom environments more suitable to a product's context. Advertisers desiring more on the subject of, say, acne skin treatments for teenage girls, 12 - 15 years old, against which to match their acne skin treatment advertisements, could prevail upon the publishers to create a "micro site" for that purpose to be buried among all the music and entertainment content (for instance) to which the teenage girls were first and foremost attracted, thus establishing an ancillary requirement to build traffic to that micro site.


There is precedent for this sort of "Please, maybe you like something else?" practice of selling advertising. The editorial calendar in magazines and newspapers comes to mind. Once upon a time destination travel advertisers the world over would freely buy pages in the Sunday Travel sections of newspapers. Then, under pressure from advertisers for better access to their best customers, newspapers began to create special destination sections that eventually had the effect of training advertisers to anticipate and wait for those sections. Which leads to the question of how many sections on Hawaii one newspaper can reasonably run per year without undermining its coverage of the travel world for readers? Two?

"Fine!" the Hawaiian advertisers responded in those days. "We'll take two pages. We can use the savings on the other four pages we use to buy from you elsewhere."

This is what happens when we chicken-out on selling value.

Save that point for a rainy day and worry about the fact that in a new media world that provides for the limitless availability of contextual opportunities, we're still building Potemkin villages - by definition, impressive but fake.

All the while Google has amassed a fortune on the genuine article: the distributed, contextual power of the Internet - the fact that the editorial circumstances exist in real time to satisfy almost every conceivable advertising objective. Online there is always a right time and place that is suitable (as suitable as every fake village) to host the right message.

Which should be the whole point of Internet media buying because, after all, we are sympathetic to our Hawaii travel and acne skin treatment customers who desire to reach their best customers, and who found it increasingly difficult to do so offline, enough so that they started to revolt against the waste of traditional media and advertising.

Doug Weaver wants to help publishers with his post; mostly brand publishers that he may be worrying aloud are taking short cuts on the value of their inventory and swimming against the tide of media distribution, which is away from the center. They have a chance using the creative resources available today to bundle their authentic selves with advertising and distribute it together, beyond their borders, to where the people are.

This post is for buyers. Listen to Doug and take the message to the people - now that the chance to do so is real, and not from a box.