SBJ/October 22 - 28, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Know how online ads relate to traditional spots, and sell their advantages

The list of questions for sports executives selling online advertising is lengthy. Two areas that continue to give the most problems to sales executives are defining what they are selling and understanding how to help a client achieve success once a package is sold.

Online sponsorship is easier to define than you might assume. It is no different from other forms of traditional sponsorships, except that it allows an increased channel of communication between a product or service and its target audience. And in some cases it allows the consumer to be proactive and interact directly with the message presented online. Consumers can click on an ad for more information, interact with the messages and, in many cases, purchase the product or service in the same session.

Unlike television or radio advertisements that interrupt programming, online sponsorships co-exist with the content that users are accessing.

The similarities with other media do not end there. To understand online sponsorships, it is necessary to understand the relationship between traditional inventory and its online counterparts.

Billboard advertising: The banner ad's traditional advertising cousin is the outdoor billboard. Much like a roadside billboard that directs commuters to an approaching attraction or reinforces a branding message, a banner ad attempts to drive users from one site to a message on another site. Billboard campaigns are static, however, and a banner ad is not.

Print media: Banner ads borrow substantially from print media for ad placement. In a newspaper or magazine, the ad is placed in a way that allows readers to disconnect the ad from the content. Web advertisements use similar borders between content and commercialization.

Television advertising: Sports marketers know the power of a 30-second television commercial. These messages interrupt the content and allow the advertiser to own the screen for 15-, 30- or 60-second intervals. Much like a Web-based flash advertisement, television ads target emotions and incorporate visuals.

Direct marketing: E-mail marketing allows marketers to track the number of people who read and respond to a message. Online-based direct marketing is similar to traditional direct mail handled by a delivery carrier, except that it is more cost effective and interactive.

While understanding these parallels will help executives to more effectively sell online sponsorships, executives must also be prepared to educate their clients after a deal is started.

Here are some helpful hints for creating responsive online sponsorships from Arlington, Va.-based The Zeff Group:

Pay attention to placement. Some sites will outperform others for an advertiser. The more focused a site is on the target audience, the better the response. In addition to finding a focused site, advertisers should pay particular attention to finding the best pages within a site. Performance on two pages of the site can differ enormously.

"The best-performing page on a poor-performing site will outperform the worst page on a good-performing site," said Kevin O'Connor, CEO of DoubleClick.

Chart frequency. According to research by DoubleClick and I/Pro, users are more likely to respond the first one or two times they see a banner ad. Response rates drop significantly after the second time.

Call to action. Why should users click on the banner? Do they win a prize? Receive a discount? Without a reason to click, there is no incentive for a user to leave a publisher's Web site. The incentive should be relevant to the site on which the advertisement is placed. Obviously, a sports offer will work better on ESPN's Web site than on a food Web site.

Add the words "click here." Ads with "click here" consistently pull better response rates than those without. There will always be new users, many of whom won't know where to click.

Create a sense of urgency. Give users a reason to click now.

Do not use too much text. Encourage users to look at the banner with a simple offer and design.

Incorporate animation. The banner is a small portion of the Web page, and there are a lot of other graphics and text competing for a user's attention. Animation makes a banner stand out.

Make good use of colors that stand out. These will differ depending on the colors used by the site.

Rotate ads. Using multiple banners throughout a campaign almost always increases response rates and advertiser satisfaction.

Incorporating these ideas and understanding the parallels of online sponsorships will undoubtedly help reduce the number of questions a sales executive has while increasing the potential for successful online sponsorship sales.

Dan Migala (dmigala@tmrxchange.com) is the author of "Web Sports Marketing."

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