THE BLOG
07/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Forbes.com Study Shows the Gaps Left Open in the Brand Advertising Sales Proposition Online

Forbes.com released results from a survey of top marketers conducted in February and March that got very different play in the two places I saw it picked-up, thanks to my various news digests. The difference is interesting.

Adweek reported that marketers still regard the Internet as a direct response tool. Their piece was titled, "Most Marketers Ignore Brand Metrics Online." Over at MediaPost, editors gave coverage to the Forbes study under the heading, "CMOs not satisfied with Ad Nets," (meaning ad networks).

The results of the study, which polled 119 marketers, seemed to imply that advertisers may retreat from using display advertising as a vehicle for direct response messages. They like search and email. Ad networks, as major purveyors of cheap, direct response display advertising over the past few years, get stuck in the cross-hairs of that change. Hence the varying treatment of the story in Adweek and MediaPost while the market figures-out what's going on and who is likely to be affected.

I suspect that some of the ad network spin is coming from Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com, who is a consistent spokesperson for brand publishers and brand advertising online, and a frequent critic of ad networks. Quoted in Adweek, Jim says,

"On the Web specifically, advertising has moved into more demand fulfillment as opposed to demand creation. That's not really advertising. There's nothing wrong with it. Doing search marketing and point-of purchase displays all works, but it's not advertising. It's not about creating demand and improving brand metrics."

In MediaPost, he says, "Ad network spending is all about demand fulfillment while direct-to-publisher display is much aligned with the traditional advertising goals of demand creation."

Unfortunately, I think Adweek probably has the story line right in its title, "Most Marketers Ignore Brand Metrics Online." But don't just blame ad networks. The survey data has very little to do with ad networks. The survey data implies that Marketers still don't respect the Internet as a branding vehicle and that makes all display advertising purveyors guilty.

Jim Spanfeller has the gumption, at least, to say "it's not advertising" when he talks about the pervasiveness of what he calls "demand fulfillment" advertising online. I'm not sure I agree that it's not advertising, but I take his point. Too bad we didn't have Jim nearby when the industry as a whole was rolling-out its fulfillment value proposition in 1995 extolling the one-to-one results and risk-free benefits of online advertising.

The Forbes.com study shows, once more, just how ill-advised that positioning strategy was. We should hope that our ability to encourage brand advertisers to see the engaging and deeply relevant value of online media to audiences gets here before digital technology levels the playing field for all media, especially TV.