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FORGET BANNERS. THE WEB’S BIG MARKETING ROLE WILL BE TO CONNECT WITH YOU AND ME, NOT THE MASSES.

Byline: Lisa Lockwood

When it comes to advertising on the Web, it is safe to say you ain’t seen nothing yet. The apparel industry, like most other business communities, is barely stretching its legs on the vast and dynamic field of play that is the Internet, with experiments such as Victoria’s Secret’s virtual fashion shows, designers’ online showrooms, voluminous click-through banner advertising and e-mail campaigns.
Among the more inventive marketing experiments are Tommy Hilfiger’s online melding of entertainment and subtle merchandising, and Nike’s quirky stab at media convergence with cliffhanger TV ads that can be custom-completed by consumers at the Web site.
Internet marketing experts, however, say the game will really get interesting once online marketing takes full advantage of the medium’s facility for one-to-one communications — and fashion’s still got a way to go before it reaches that point.
“Internet advertising is not developed yet to the level it will be. It’s still in the first half of the first inning, and still has to be played out,” said Jay Chiat, co-founder of Chiat/Day and now chief executive officer of ScreamingMedia, an Internet company that distributes custom news to corporate Web sites. Chiat discussed advertising’s Web horizons at a Burt Manning seminar earlier this year.
While Internet advertising only accounts for two percent of all advertising dollars spent, nonetheless “it’s shaking the industry to its roots,” said Burt Manning, former chairman and ceo of J. Walter Thompson.
In the first quarter of 2000, advertisers spent $1.5 billion on advertising online, up from $1 billion in the fourth quarter of 1999, according to the AdRelevance division of Media Metrix. The game is so new that comparative year-ago figures aren’t available.
The bulk of that money is pouring into banner ads on portals and popular Web sites designed to draw traffic to the advertisers’ own sites — barely grazing the Web’s potential, according to Peter Arnell, chairman of Surge Media and AG Worldwide.
“Any type of banner with click-through can migrate the audience to your site. The form it’s in today is extremely primitive. Online advertising will see a surge toward cross-media platforming, connecting different media such as telephony and the Web,” Arnell said.
The system will start to really click once, for example, a customer can walk by Barneys New York and her Palm Pilot will spring to life, alerting her that there’s a new lipstick inside she may be interested in. “We will start to build stronger and more dynamic approaches to online communications that will involve many medias,” explained Arnell.
Turning almost philosophical, Arnell predicted that soon, the very dynamic of the relationship between advertiser and consumer will be turned on its ear, thanks to the Web’s ability to collect data from users, massage that into marketing intelligence and then tailor a direct marketing response to an individual’s interests and needs.
“The key here is to imagine a world where information comes to you, instead of you going to information,” he said. “Data becomes very critical. You become the ad, and things are attracted to you. The future advertiser is the consumer. They’ll carry all the messages. The company is no longer promoting its products. What the consumer represents will become the future of advertising. The ultimate advertising is seamlessly involving the participant, who becomes part of the product.
“The future of all advertising is the management of branded audience, and how do you brand that audience,” Arnell continued. “We call it ‘brand casting.”‘
The devices that are now seen as providing mobile access to the Web will, in practice, reverse the flow to become individualized windows into each consumer’s life. “Right now, there’s a lot of interest and attention on mobile [devices] and Palm Pilots,” said Aaron Sugarman, president of Agency.com, a consulting firm that specializes in interactive marketing and Web strategy. “You can be standing in a store and have your Palm Pilot scan the bar code for a $650 jacket you’re looking at, and then you can see where you can buy it online for $450.”
This kind of real-time, dead-on targeting turns a bland marketing message into news you can use, according to Steve Klein, chairman of Iballs, an Internet media and data marketing firm. Klein said the real smart activity out there is moving toward such tailoring of ad messages “to make sure what you’re seeing is compatible to your actual desires. It’s based on preferences, so you’re seeing an ad based on your preferences.”
Another key advantage to the medium is the ability to change the marketing message according to the time of day or other particulars, such as sending out a certain message along with certain music content. Advertising that finely tailored to its audience is doable, Klein said, although advertisers will need to figure out how to do it profitably online.
For Marysia Woroniecka, account director at Agency.com, the Web as marketing tool can be most effective when it works in concert with a broader strategy.
“One of the key issues is how to extend the retail experience online, and how to take what is a rich experience offline and bring it online.” With the Web still in its nascent stages, “There’s going to be a lot of work done in that area,” she said. “An offline media campaign should be leveraged to benefit from an online presence. You have to look at it as one holistic view. You can’t do everything in every medium. You have to be consistent from medium to medium.”