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Not for long, say Mississippi ad execs

Online advertising sluggish in state?

With the rise and fall of dot-coms and an economic slowdown in general, many Mississippi businesses are reluctant to advertise online. But industry insiders say that’s changing.

“Businesses in Mississippi are participating in Web advertising, but there’s not a fever to it like there was 12 months ago,” said John Broderick, president of Broderick/Bates Advertising Inc. in Jackson. “There has been a hesitance by advertisers to view online advertising as another channel in which to get the message across to their audience.”

Laura Hasty, president of the Biloxi-based advertising agency, The Ad Group, said she’s noticed a hefty increase in Web advertising by the firm’s clients, which include Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, Keesler Federal Credit and Cruisin’ The Coast.

“They see it as a must because that’s how most people are getting their information,” Hasty said. “Since last year, the percentage of our business devoted to the Internet has increased 50%. About 20% of our revenue is from Internet-related work.”

Product-oriented businesses are best suited to Web advertising, Hasty said.

“Web advertising is so much more cost effective and reaches consumers faster,” she said. “Advertisers can change information on their Web site almost instantly. Even other advertising mediums, such as the newspaper, TV and radio stations, advertise on the Internet because they know it’s the fastest way to convey new information.”

Bill Moak, manager of media relations for Baptist Health Systems in Jackson, began advertising via a banner link on The Clarion-Ledger’s Web site (www.clarionledger.com) last year.

“We’re exploring how well it works as an ad medium,” Moak said. “The ultimate goal is for people to visit our Web site so we can promote our products and services, and provide information to help our patients. We provide many services online, such as ‘Babies Online,’ patient e-mail, online pre-registration and even job applications. It allows us to constantly update information, such as heart screenings and upcoming promotions.”

According to Competitive Media Reporting (CMR), Internet advertising revenues in the U.S. jumped almost 53% in a 12-month period, from $1.9 billion in 1999 to nearly $3 billion in 2000.

By 2005, online advertising is on track to reach $42 billion worldwide, and traditional U.S. companies will spend $63 billion annually on multifaceted marketing campaigns that integrate online advertising, promotions, and e-mail strategies, according to Forrester Research.

“There’s no doubt that this medium is going to be a dominant force in our lives,” said Alan Hammons, president and CEO of Hammons & Associates Advertising in Greenwood. “With so many advertising choices, it’s hard to pinpoint who’s doing what at any given time, but we’re in a rapidly changing world, and anyone who doesn’t adapt quickly isn’t going to fare very well.”

Simply having a Web site is not enough, Hammons said.

“It has to have a function,” he said. “Most of our clients have specific reasons they want to be online, whether it’s to refer a client to the site for basic information about the company or to schedule downloads of certain material or new information.”

AdRelevance, an online ad tracking company, reported that Internet advertising reached an all-time high in December, and signaled a trend that Web ad dollars are now being spread over a wider array of Web sites than they were a year ago.

The top three Web sites ranked by ad revenue in December 2000 were MSN ($180 million), Yahoo! ($118 million), and Netscape ($56 million).

By contrast, the top three advertisers, ranked by ad spending in December 2000 were Amazon.com ($61.8 million), Barnes & Noble.com ($23.6 million), and ClassMates.com ($19.3 million).

Ironically, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com were among the top dot-com layoffs and shutdowns, according to a Feb. 9 report by The Wall Street Journal. Other well-known, Web-related companies on the list include Alta Vista, Ameritrade Holding, CNN, E-Stamp, Priceline.com and Stamps.com.

A year ago, banner ads were hot, said Skip Aaron, executive vice president of G. Williams & Associates Inc. in Jackson.

“But its popularity has died down some because there are other ways to bring people to your sites,” said Aaron, Webmaster for the advertising agency. “First of all, it’s important to get good placement in search engines and directories. When I set up a site, for example, I submit key words and meta tags to the search engines once a week, then once a month.”

Cross marketing with other Web sites, where the advertisers have something in common, is important, Aaron said.

“On Truckersjobbank.com, you could advertise safety equipment and other products that truckers would be interested in,” he said. “That does a tremendous job of increasing the flow of traffic to a site. When you build up a lot of links with other sites, you also start to climb in the search engines. But advertisers need to find someone who knows how to work the search engines. You can run a report every month and see what key words are typed in to access that site, then resubmit to the search engines with more refined key words. A third option is the banner method.”

Regardless of the mix of online advertising methods, a new Myers Mediaenomics report from Myers Reports Inc., points to greater optimism on ad spending in general. The report, “Media Recession 2001: Real or Self-Fulfilling?” predicts an ad spending rebound in the fourth quarter of this year, and said the recent wave of dot-com flops and disappointing earnings reports are “too often blamed — conveniently and erroneously — on an ad spending slowdown.”

“There’s a misunderstood perception that arose with the failure of many dot-coms that tainted the Internet for the short-term,” Broderick said. “Those were pure play Web houses and they thought that conventional business practices didn’t matter just because they were on the Internet. But that’s not the case. You have to make a profit. And those who use it wisely, steadily, and methodically and not in a wild eyed manner will be way ahead of the game in the future.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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