Column: Online advertising's day is nearing

What's the most popular World Wide Web site in New Zealand? That was the big question at the New Media Conference in Auckland this month. The question was posed to a number of people and, predictably, a number of different answers were given. According to Andew Mulcahy of the Ministry of Commerce, the New Zealand Government Home Page gets about 30,000 "hits" a week. Others thought the Shortland Street site got more readers than any other. Lance Worsley of Web Workshop pointed out that more than 13,000 readers visited the "Incredibly Strange Film Festival" home page in the two weeks it was live. Gateway to New Zealand as well as the TV 3 home pages were also mentioned. The upshot is that nobody really knows.

Not only that, there is no standard way of classifying "hits". Is it by pages read, unique IP address, or single users? Each person has a different view. So what?, you might ask. The issue is that there is a potentially huge Internet advertising market out there but mainstream agencies, such as Saatchi and Saatchi, are reluctant to make a major spend until they are convinced that the readership numbers are there in significant quantity and that those numbers are reliable.

Not to worry. Brian Milnes, director of sales and marketing of AGB McNair, told the conference that McNair's new Panorama target marketing programme would be paying special attention to the Internet ... how many readers visit a particular site, who they are, and what they do when they are there. It is this sort of monitoring that takes Internet advertising from a "gee whiz" concept to part of an overall corporate brand positioning strategy.

Milnes had a few interesting statistics already. For instance, about 24% of New Zealanders over the age of 10 live in households with at least one PC. About 40% of these households are in the top socio-demographic category. But more importantly an estimated 7% of New Zealanders have used the Internet sometime in the past week (preliminary figures based on a small sample size, but still indicative of the market potential). AGB has been collecting Interent data since February and will have its first comprehensive, more statistically robust, report in July.

As the agencies and clients begin to see a real audience out there and the measurement tools to quantify the market potential, organisations are going to have to start thinking about the technical process of advertising on the Internet. Jonathan Ewert of Auckland's e-Central gave an excellent presentation on the mechanics of online advertising. The basic unit, according to Ewert, is the banner ad. A banner ad is a graphic image, maybe 20Kb in size, that contains a logo, name and a few words of text, all in a unified design format. These banner ads can then be placed on popular pages as hypertext links to the advertisers' home page in return for money.

There are, of course, variations on the theme: simple logo links, smaller banner ads and full page ads, but the basic concept is the same. Only a few organisations are actively soliciting online advertising (such as @idg and Webmaster's Access New Zealand Internet Directory), but the potential is huge. It won't be long before a banner ad is a key component in a company's Internet strategy.

Last year when Julian Meadow was setting up the Video Cam at the Ruapehu eruption and getting thousands of hits both domestically and internationally, he approached a major bookseller to see if they wanted to advertise their books on vulcanology on the site. The terse response was "Internet users don't read books". My, how times have changed.

(Phil Parent is a Computerworld contributor and Internet consultant at Creative Design. He can be emailed at pjp@iprolink.co.nz and contacted via Creative Design's Web site, at http://www.cd.co.nz/cd)

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