Customer Interface: The Right Impression

Advertising online is a lot like advertising elsewhere: It’s easy to do poorly and hard to do well. A few tips on the latter.


Advertising has a new playground. A lot of the rules are the same. A lot of the rules are new. If you have a Web site and want to promote it– if you have a brand and want to build it– if you have a product and want more people to buy it, on-line advertising may be the way to go.

On the Internet, this primarily means banners. Oh sure, you can create the top Web site of news about your industry. Yes, you can create a new Web site devoted to good works and (oh by the way) sponsored by your company. You can insert full page ads into online games so your message hits participants in the face. But primarily, Web advertising means banners.

It also means big business. Enough people are logging on to the Internet now that it has caught the attention of some of the worlds largest companies. Of course IBM and Digital are buying ad space out there. Naturally Microsoft is spending gigabucks on banners. Yes, AT&T wants you to know they are running with the wolves of high tech. But companies like Toyota, Proctor & Gamble and Disney feel it’s a good place for some of their budget as well.


The game is afoot and the shoe size is growing. In August of this year, the Internet Advertising Bureau pegged Web ad revenues for the first quarter of 1997 at 18% higher than the same quarter of 1996. If buying stays flat, total 1997 sales will hit half a billion dollars. Nobody expects buying to stay flat.

The first question any competent advertising or marketing executive asks when looking at the Internet is, Who is looking back?  Are your prospective customers are out there where they might see your ad? Are there are enough of them to make it worth your while?

The answer comes in two forms. First (depending on what survey you read), there are anywhere from 18 million to 75 people surfing the Web. What’s newsworthy is that the make up of those people is starting to look like your average cross-section of humanity. Out of that size collection of people, some of them are going to be in the market for your products.

OK, so if you sell shoes and gloves to peasants in Guiyang China, it’s going to be a few years before your customers are online. But if you think selling Medicare augmentation plans to seniors is out of line, think again. That growing portion of our population has more time on their hands and less time on their feet and they are going online.

If you don’t normally place ads in Life magazine to promote your nuclear decontamination consulting services, you won’t be buying banners on Yahoo! either. But if you place the occasional ad in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, you should think about buying a banner on the Energy section of Newspage ( Fine-tuned targeting is what makes the Web a great place to advertise.

Banners are easy to create. But not easy to create well. It takes a good banner to distract somebody enough to look at it while they’re deep in concentration. It takes a great banner to get people to click. If you know why you want to place banners, and you know where to place banners, you still need to create a banner that’s going to get attention and make people click.


Advertising has two major roles in this world: branding and direct response. Branding is the art of making an indelible impression on people. Volvo stands for safety. Pepsi is for the younger generation. Macintosh is the computer for the rest of us (however dwindling our ranks may be). Some branding is mis-guided. Does anybody really believe that pork is the other white meat? Does it really make any sense at all that Novell should be associated with “Rock The Net”? But one thing is certain– branding is expensive.

Branding is the art of getting exposure. Getting exposure takes lots and lots of impressions. The public has to see an ad connecting a concept to a product hundreds of times before it starts to sink in. You can expect to buy millions of impressions at anywhere from $1 to $40 per thousand to achieve “branding”. If your name is Nike or Coke, that’s just a rounding error in your global ad budget. No big deal. If your Mom & Pop with a product to push, direct response is more up your ally.

Buy Now! Limited Time Offer!  Buy One Get One Free! These are the signs of the direct marketer. This is the effort to solicit an immediate action.

Like anything else on the Web, knowing your goals ahead of time is the only way you can succeed. It’s certainly the only way you’ll be able to measure if you are succeeding or not. In the world of branding, the first metric is impressions. How many people saw your banner? Since so much on the Web is measurable, this is primarily a question of how much you spend. The direct marketer uses a different metric: How many people took the time and trouble to actually click on your ad? And how do you increase your odds of increasing the response?


If you want people to click, go to the right people. If you’re advertising sporting goods, buying a banner slot on ESPN or the top of the sports section on Yahoo makes the most sense. If your audience is a select few, find out where they hang out on the Web and advertise there.

Randy Kawahara, Assistant Manager of National Advertising at Honda, wants the site he advertises on to help filter the surfer. He’s interested in putting Civic banners on sites that attract a younger crowd and Accord banners on sites that attract a wealthier audience. Yes, he admits, part of his reasoning is associative branding, but filtering is on his mind.

Carolyn Doll, Manager of Media Research and Interactive Media for Hal Riney & Partners works on the Saturn account and doesn’t want to filter as much as Randy does. Hal Riney does all of those downhome Saturn television ads. One would think they’re after a certain breed.

According to Carolyn, “It’s all about boxcar numbers for us. The bigger the site, the more the clickthrough. Yeah, we can get three times the clickthrough on something like Epicurious Food ( because it attracts women, or on Traveler ( because it attracts upscale and sophisticated. But the CPM (cost per thousand) is a lot higher on those, so the cost of each click is higher.”

At the end of 1996 Excite showed the Saturn banner a half a million times. It got a touch over a half of one percent clickthrough. The same banner at Epicurious got one and a half percent clickthrough. Three times the generic search engine! But Carolyn is quick to point out that Excite was the far better buy in cost per click and sheer volume.

As for cost-per-qualified-click, the logic says that the Epicureans are much more likely to become Saturn buyers. “Eight times more likely?” asks Doll. “When we have better tracking on our own site and the content people can offer us better targeting we’ll re-think it. Right now, we’re very happy showing our banner to millions of people. After all, our branding is all about regular folks, you know?”


Even if you found the right spot for your spot, you have to find the right message and present it the right way. In the briefest of nutshells, here is a combination of factors gleaned from discussion groups, formal surveys, random rumors and common sense:

Be at the top of the page, and duplicate the banner at the bottom. If you are given the option, always go for the top.

Find a way to have your banner stay on the screen as long as possible. Some sites put banners in frames; no matter what the surfer clicks on inside the site, your ad stays with them.

After the third exposure, the likelihood of a person clicking on your ad goes way down. In advertising parlance, go for reach over frequency. Advertise on those sites that limit the number of times a banner is shown to an individual.

Add the words, “Click Here.” No I’m not kidding. It works.

Use bright colors and animation. You may hate looking at them, but you always look at them.


Ron Richards of ResultsLab in San Francisco ( is a master of language. He’s been fine tuning ads and direct mail pieces for decades and now has the statistics that prove his methods work on the Web. Simply stated, his advice includes: Use evocative language to make the surfer create a mental picture. Find a fundamental desire that is satisfied by your product or service, or a disaster that it can be used to avoid. Lean toward concrete benefits instead of abstract concepts.

Richards says there are four imperatives to all advertising copy:

1.  Announce a news story, signal a hot issue or disaster, and offer      a breakthrough or extraordinary results.
2.  Reset the standard that the buyer should expect, demonstrate
uniqueness or make an offer or guarantee.
3.  Offer the gift of critical learning.
4.  Create urgency.

The media may have changed, but most of the rules stay the same. What will make them click? Make them an offer they can’t refuse.