Joe Public couldn't give a dot.com about internet ads

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The Independent Online

THe Events of the past few weeks give the impression that new media is an industry in crisis. Press reports have been, on the whole, negative, people piecing things together in the City haven't known whether they were coming or going and most people working in the industry have been carefully tidying up their operations.

THe Events of the past few weeks give the impression that new media is an industry in crisis. Press reports have been, on the whole, negative, people piecing things together in the City haven't known whether they were coming or going and most people working in the industry have been carefully tidying up their operations.

Most of what's gone on has been scaremongering, with journalists busying themselves trying to be the first to spot the next casualty. Unfortunately, I have to count myself in this - it's easy to get carried away with things and forget to stop and realise livelihoods are at stake.

This last week has been one of recovery, when reflection and reworked approaches have been the order of the day. Wearily, the markets are recovering, start-ups are economising and people are questioning their motives for working in new media. While writing this, news was just emerging of Nike-funded FogDog - whose business is in that delicate area of sports-related retailing - cancelling its plans for European expansion to concentrate on getting things right first in its home market, the US.

Every other day, news breaks that a start-up has cancelled its IPO and is cutting back its marketing budget to address operational issues. But rather than see this as an industry losing its balance, these moves are more good than bad. Long-term survival depends on being clever and growing organically, not wildly, and not throwing money away because someone reckons it will be good for your brand.

Last year, more than £150m was spent by dotcoms on above-the-line advertising, the bulk of which was a complete waste according to a new survey by Ogilvy Interactive. While most dotcom ads may have stirred up a bit of discussion and ridicule within medialand, outside this relatively small industry, Joe Public just didn't take a blind bit of notice. One of the more interesting findings of the survey was that consumers see dotcom ads as irrelevant to their lives, and 72 per cent of those questioned couldn't name a single dotcom ad.

While the ad agencies must take some of the blame for this wastage, so must investors who were far too easily swayed by seeing their investment appear on TV. Companies themselves should have realised that consumers wouldn't take kindly to being bombarded by dotcom messages that didn't fully explain themselves, and stopped their highly paid agencies making fools of them. Fingers crossed, this may finally lead to the death of AOL's Connie (perhaps one of the annoying kids in the ad could kill her off, in a very gruesome, post-watershed manner).

The only solution, suggests the Ogilvy Interactive research, is to use animals, as it seems consumers are suckers for those little creatures. Lycos (remember the ad with the retriever and the tartan pants?) came out on top because people could understand the role of a retriever and managed to equate Lycos with fetching stuff. Quite clever really, but hardly original.

TV finally gets webbed

Bubbling under the surface there still happens to be a vibrant industry, with lots of strength and ideas. The next big thing to change the way the internet is used will be TV-like content, developed to be screened on the internet. The UK's first internet sit-com, The Junkies (www.thejunkies.com), is into its 10th week and, by all accounts, is going from strength-to-strength. In fact, it's close to signing a deal, which would take it on to, low and behold, TV.

With no mainstream advertising to shout about, The Junkies has done what most aspiring producers dream of; developed a programme, put it in front of a worldwide audience and sat back and let word of mouth drive traffic. So far, traffic stumbling across the site has translated to more than 250,000 unique visitors, not bad for a programme made within a £3,500 budget. The bug is catching and more people within the TV industry are becoming obsessed with the internet and, more importantly, what broadband access will soon do for broadcasting.

Having finally reached the TV industry, the internet now promises to have the same impact upon it as MP3 did on the music industry. As well as interactive movies, sports footage and voyeur-type programmes, sit-coms and soaps will soon be a staple part of internet content. In a few weeks time, iChooseTV.com will launch and present itself like a cable operator but with a difference - the viewer gets to choose what TV programmes are made. For TV producers wanting to do something different, or indeed just wanting a break, there has never been a better time to dabble.

Going off the rails

Staying loosely with the subject of advertising, it hasn't escaped my attention that some dotcoms are now shouting even louder than ever, TheTrainLine.com and LineOne to name but two.

As for the TheTrainLine.com, while it may be a good brand and provide a useful service, this last week I've found it impossible to actually book tickets through the site. This may be down to demand as I've tended to try at peak times, but try as I might I just couldn't get to that final stage where I could switch off my computer safe in the knowledge that I'd just secured my ticket.

Frustrated, but needing to prove the system could work (and eager to save £5 by booking online), I persevered. My final attempt was at 9:45pm one night, and, to cut a long story short, ended in being told I would have to use the phone to buy my tickets. By this time the ticket line was closed, so I called back the next day and booked my tickets within minutes, minus my £5 saving.

As a consumer, I now find myself sickened by every TheTrainLine.com ad I see, and there really is no escaping them as the buggers are everywhere. The moral of the story is that if a website can't get a basic core service right, then there's no point spending millions each month promoting its brand just to frustrate people.

amy@wagswell.co.uk

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