Technology

Broadband Ads' Speedy Progress


Sensing that it has a huge hit on its hands, NBC has gone all out to promote The Office, the American version of a British comedy series that ridicules corporate life. It has taken out newspaper and TV ads and tempted potential viewers with a glimpse of the new show by embedding snippets in Web-based ads.

That's standard for a big promotional campaign these days. But the broadcasting giant went a step further by conducting the show's premiere on the Web. An episode of the irreverent series was streamed to users on the wildly popular networking site www.myspace.com before the program's Mar. 24 TV debut. It has been viewed online 250,000 times, helping contribute to the show's high ratings on NBC, a unit of General Electric. (GE)

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. That's just one example of how faster Internet access, known as broadband, is turning the Web into a more powerful medium for advertising and marketing. "Broadband creates a richer viewing experience that wasn't available on the Internet before. The advertising opportunities are huge," says MySpace co-founder and Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe.

Other signs also show that major advertisers are taking broadband seriously. MySpace has created multimedia online ad campaigns for Target (TGT) and Procter & Gamble (PG). Viacom's (VIA) Showtime network launched its hit series Fat Actress on the Web at Yahoo! (YHOO). And Kraft (KFT) has created a hot gaming site, www.postopia, to boost awareness of its Post cereal brand among children.

No doubt about it, online advertising is on the move. It generates about $16.5 billion, or 8%, of the total advertising market, according to Jupiter Communications (see BW, 11/22/04, "The Online Ad Surge"). Broadband advertising accounts for a small but growing percentage of the online total. Jupiter predicted that multimedia spending meant for broadband connections hit $1 billion at the end of last year and is likely to reach $3.8 billion over the next four years.

COMICAL SPOTS. The growth in broadband advertising is tied to the proliferation of high-speed Internet connections. About 26% of all U.S. households had a fast Internet connection, such as a digital subscriber line or cable modem, at the end of last year, according to analyst Mike Goodman of researcher Yankee Group.

Within 7 to 10 years, broadband will account for 80% to 90% of all Internet connections. As those numbers get higher, Web sites will stop supporting dial-up users. "The Internet will gradually evolve into a full-fledged alternative to satellite and cable TV, giving rise to new kinds of ads," says Jeff Lanctot, vice-president for media and client services at Avenue A/Razorfish, an interactive agency owned by aQuantive Inc. (AQNT).

A few years ago, innovative marketers like Reebok transported their TV commercials to the Web. The athletic apparel maker had a huge Internet hit with a series of comical spots that featured "Office Linebacker" Terry Tate administering discipline within the halls of an imaginary company. "Get ready for the pain, the pain train's coming," he roared before steamrolling terrified employees.

Advertisers are going even further now, combing video from TV with interactive features native to the Web. Avenue A/Razorfish uses Macromedia's (MACR) Flash software to add animation and text to video. It used that approach to create multimedia ads for the DVD version of the popular film The Incredibles. The agency also keeps track of important data such as how many people view the ads online. That introduces an element of accountability that allows online media to charge advertisers more money for successful campaigns.

JUST THE BEGINNING. At MySpace, new kinds of promotions already are taking shape. The 18-month-old site had 4.6 billion page views in February, making it the Web's seventh-most-visited site, right after Google, according to researcher comScore Media Metrix. MySpace's 12 million users create personal home pages packed with photos, Web logs, and other features. They form networks based on common interests such as dating and music.

The site, which was co-founded by musician Tom Anderson, also features home pages for 200,000 bands. So when Procter & Gamble wanted to launch a new deodorant called Secret Sparkle for 16- to 24-year-old women and girls, it linked the product to the home pages of musicians that appeal to the same demographic. When users listened to new songs by The Donnas and Bonnie McKey, they saw ads for Secret Sparkle and were offered a chance to participate in a Secret Sparkle sweepstakes.

It's just the beginning. Today's broadband is about to get a lot speedier. Cable TV operators, telecom companies, and wireless phone companies are preparing to launch ever faster networks over the next few years. As they take shape, new forms of media and advertising will grow with them. By Steve Rosenbush in New York


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