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Online Advertising: Fact and Figures

Matt Bruce from Nielsen Online is the next speaker at the Australasian Media & Broadcasting Congress; his focus is also on online advertising. There is continuing growth in the number of banners, advertisers, and campaigns online in Australia, as well as in the overall display advertising spend online. As of quarter three, 2008, the big spenders in this field of advertising continue to spend (even the battered finance sector); search advertising is strong and dominated by Google; even spending on Google image search advertising is in itself as strong as advertising on the next closest search engine.

However, in the US, advertising spend is following the NASDAQ down. Matt also points to political advertising in the US - Obama advertising click-throughs surged in the last few months of the campaign, whereas McCain virtually flatlined; similar trends existed with ad impressions for Kevin Rudd in the 2007 Australian campaign.

What is also interesting is the development in advertising styles - larger ads (in terms of pixel sizes) are becoming more prevalent. The battle between innovation and standardisation is ranging on; Vibrant Media in the US places contextual ads inside content (which appears as green-underlined text), and YouTube is starting to use video overlay ads. Such innovation also has a price, though; ad clutter is a problem, and users remain very sensitive to the quantity of advertising on Websites. Such clutter does matter to advertisers, too - the more ad clutter, the less do users recall the ads they have seen.

Interestingly, niche sites have more clutter than general use sites with larger audiences. Consumers also continue to hate pop-up ads, but remain neutral about many other formats; sites with (next to) no advertising remain most trusted by consumers, though, and it is these sites which they use the most. Web users remain concerned with advertiser influence over site content, and want to be able to control ads; ad formats that pop up, slow down usage, or otherwise interfere with interaction with site content are highly problematic.

There is a new perspective about online advertising that is emerging. Online advertising was traditionally seen as a direct response medium, and click-through was seen as a sign of effective advertising. However, today advertisers are beginning to see online advertising as a form of brand-building instead; the new measure of online campaigns is around 'softer' measures such as brand awareness, message recognition, and brand attribution as well as wider purchasing trends rather than immdiate click-through.

There is a new industry ad effectiveness project which aims to research such issues in more detail, using a Sultana Bran advertising campaign as a test case; surprisingly, this project indicated that 'standard creative' and 'video creative' campaigns were significantly more effective than conventional ad campaigns.

Overall, then, consumers continue to do more online, and advertisers continue to spend more online. Online formats have expanded in on-screen size, but clutter remains an issue as ad formats are growing in size; there may be a trend towards less clutter but larger display sizes. Consumers are clear about how they want to interact with online advertising; in particular, while search spending may dip in comparison to other online advertising forms, consumers view it as an effective advertising medium. New ad effectiveness paradigs will help marketers continue to justify and optimise online spending.

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