Magazine article Marketing

The Dotcom Debate

Magazine article Marketing

The Dotcom Debate

Article excerpt

Have advertising agencies failed their dotcom clients? Here two industry figures argue over whether broadcast media is really the right way to launch a dotcom business


"Americans have a most expressive phrase -- 'pissing contests' -- which mocks the foolish efforts of rivals to outdo each other. There is such a contest in weird and wacky dotcom country as well, where they talk in throwaway fashion of 'burn rates' -- how fast they piss away investors' money. The only measurement is loss -- how great and how quickly achieved. Profit doesn't come into it.

In this, many of the dotcommas, as I call them, should thank their ad agencies. Most often their ads' objectives are ill-judged, the media inappropriate and the content wrong.

"Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement," Dr Johnson noted nearly 250 years ago. He knew, like anyone outside adland's mutual admiration society, that people have one chief sentiment when they see an ad: "What's in it for me?" You can expand that to: "Can you do something for me that nobody else can or better than they can?" You will find it hard to locate even the scintilla of a promise in much dotcom advertising, let alone a competitive one.

Say it loud, say it proud

But something even more basic is usually ignored. Some 100 years after Johnson, George R Rowell, founder of US ad trade journal Printer's Ink, advised: "Come right down with the facts, boldly, firmly, unflinchingly. Say directly what it is, what it has done, what it will do."

The old rhyme applies: "Tell me quick and tell me true what your product's going to do, or else, my love, to hell with you." Most dotcom ads simply don't say what they offer. Such stupidity is staggering.

Consider It offers bargains -- yet do its posters say so? Hardly ever. It tries harder to be clever than to make a competitive case. To suggest I surprise my girlfriend on Valentine's Day by taking her sister to Paris is no reason to use It is a reason to go to Paris--and some copywriter's idea of a good joke.

Or how about another service that has had a huge amount of money lavished on it, None of the posters or giveaway cards I saw said 'save money'. Is that so hard?

Or Books Online, whose posters featuring lovers ended up obscuring the benefit by reducing the site name to initials -- BOL -- instead of the full title, which at least explains what is offered.

Many of the dotcommas rightly want to build a brand. But they have it all the wrong way round. First get the sales. If the service is good, the brand will follow. What use is a brand if you're broke? Ask Hoover. Even a huge success such as Direct Line took years to climb from nowhere to being a big brand. It understood the importance of getting across the message of its unique positioning. Every ad got response and built the brand.

It is possible to do good above-the-line advertising in this sector, but I've had to search hard for examples. 'Virgin dotcom slash cars'-- simple, brief, to the point and clever, too.

Grand advertising people dismiss the tawdrybusiness of gettingsales to the sepulchral vault 'below-the-line'. I suspect the reason for the term's popularity is simple. Most of those who use it have little inclination and less talent for getting sales. They prefer petty creative pyrotechnics. I don't blame them. Years of bruising experience taughtme it is very hard to make customers part with money.

But as Rosser Reeves said when asked why his ads weren't more 'tasteful' in a 1965 interview: "What do you want from me? Fine writing? Or would you like to see the goddam sales curve stop going down and start going up?" If dotcommas want to get sales-they certainly need them-they should try asking those who specialise in getting them. Direct marketers.

I have written before about the debatable wisdom of using posters to introduce a new, fairly complex idea. …

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