Feature

Dotcom TV adverts' days are numbered

As the novelty value wears off, TV advertising may become too expensive for the dotcoms, says Martin Butler. Julia Vowler reports

One of the ironies of the Internet revolution, is that it is having to rely on old technology to clamber to prominence.

It is bizarre that this age of e-commerce, has to rely so heavily on TV advertising, a promotional technique so long in the tooth that 40-somethings will be able to recall childhood memories where toothpaste gives you a ring of confidence and you can clean a carpet for less than half a crown.

Of course, Web site adverts on TV do as much as they can to distance themselves from such embarrassing forebears. With so much fancy footage and oblique art direction, no-one out of their teens can work out what the advertised Web site is actually about, apart from being cool. But, however stylishly incomprehensible the advert is, the sad fact remains that dotcoms have to lure punters to their Web sites using analogue technology. But not for much longer, it seems.

Dotcom watcher Martin Butler is sceptical about the future of Web advertising on TV (or should that be TV advertising for the Web?). Already, across the pond, decline is setting in.

"In the US, dotcom adverts have reached a point where each successive advert has less impact on the viewer than the one which was screened before," he says.

In the early days of e-commerce, a Web advert on television was noticeable simply because it was advertising something so different from cars, toilet paper or supermarkets.

But uniqueness is a marketing weapon that erodes extremely quickly and as Web adverts proliferate their impact lessens progressively, even if, in the UK, says Butler, that hasn't yet been reached.

"Here in the UK, dotcom adverts can still actively promote a company as their impact still packs a punch," he says. "TV is still a great way for dotcoms to quickly build a brand image with consumers."

But the price could well be getting too steep for the e-merchants. TV advertising is mega-expensive - hundreds of thousands of pounds for a few seconds of primetime - and dotcoms are now learning the tough lesson that the only way to make a small fortune out of the Web is to get your venture capitalists. The TV, says Butler, is looking more and more out of reach.

"The main concern is whether or not the huge brand exposure they gain is actually going to be recouped by converting those viewers into profitable customers," says Butler.

"Aside from the huge expense of TV advertising, many believe that dotcom adverts have a very short shelf life."

Instead of blowing the last of their investors' millions on the box, it might be time to put a bit more effort into the unluvvie side of the business, that is fulfilment.

After all, getting customers is only one half of staying in business - the other half is delivering to them.

  • www.butlergroup.com


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    This was first published in August 2000

     

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