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Impulse Advertising on the Web:
Creating the path of least resistance

By: Darren Zwack

Darren Zwack is the Director of Online Advertising at Columbus Group Communications, an Internet strategy and solutions company. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Saskatchewan, spent six years as a business strategist at Price Waterhouse, then two years as a freelance photographer and multimedia producer. Darren has been involved in Internet strategic planning, information architecture and account planning for Columbus Group clients for the past two years. He now leads a division responsible for client based online advertising.

Thought Processes

I think that two amazing capabilities set the Web apart from its analog counterparts: connectivity and two-way communication. Connectivity allows us to move through information sources and subjects on impulse, with the greatest of ease. This freedom of movement is a natural way for us to place our attention – because it resembles how our minds work (like the stream of thought you experience through during the course of an hour – all the little movies you play in your head, linking thoughts together). This is much more natural (and refreshing) than the many linear models thrust upon us in our highly structured society. The Web gives us the ability to follow paths of thought freely wherever we choose to take them, and if information is all we are looking for, it gives us instant gratification

Two-way communication allows us to act upon our thoughts and impulses, albeit only in ways enabled by a keyboard and a mouse. We are able to participate in the content we see, affect what happens on the screen, affect the people on the “other side” of the screen, and conduct various types of information and product transactions. If nothing else, this ability to “participate” gives us both a sense of control (over where we go and what we do) and belonging (by allowing us to step out of a passive role).

Tapping In

For advertisers who provide web users with online fulfillment through their offerings, these two characteristics allow them to blend with the natural impulses of their customers in ways that have not been possible before Web technology. By online fulfillment, I mean the ability to deliver an offering without disrupting the natural flow of the users’ online experience. This includes those who offer information or other online content as their product (Web publishers) and those whose product lends itself easily to selection and purchase through the Web.

Information providers have the greatest advantage, because they are able to deliver instant gratification to the user on the other end of their advertising message – there is no need to go beyond their computer to satisfy the impulse they have generated with their online advertising. This does not just include e-zines and online news services, but covers online communities, and various forms of online entertainment and educational offerings.

Product companies have a greater challenge because of the need for offline order fulfillment (software being the exception), which delays gratification of the user’s expressed need. But they can counter this by making the online product selection and ordering process very fast and easy, or by providing some sort of alternative fulfillment (such as entry into a contest or receipt of a coupon).

In its ultimate form, these companies can make the consumption of their information or product offerings a natural part of the Web experience. The analog parallel to this is point-of-purchase advertising and product merchandising, which reaches potential customers when they are most “able” to make a purchase decision. Grabbing my package of licorice on my way through the check-out line is as natural to me as checking the rearview mirror when driving my car. The great thing about online promotion is that you are able to carry point-of-purchase capability to the millions of users of the Web, unbound by physical and geographical boundaries.

The challenge in reaching this market is in tapping into the stream of thought of the user, and generating the impulse to shift attention to your offering. Remember, for this group, a click of the mouse will often mean instant reward for the company and its customers. You must respect the users’ right to follow any path they choose, by making your path the most natural one.

What To Do

Accomplishing this requires more that a simple definition of audience demographics in a creative brief. How people use the Web and for what purpose are just as important as who they are. It requires an understanding of how people interact with computer interfaces, why they use the Internet, what level of technological sophistication are they at, what hardware and connection speed do they have, and how does their state of mind and patterns of Web use change depending on the time of day, the day of the week, their job role, their gender, and various other characteristics. This information forms the archetype of “Using the Web” and is the key to understanding a Web audience.

When we consider this type of information, it opens up new ways to target advertising beyond the demographic profile, which inherently assumes some sort of consistent behaviour patterns regardless of the environment in which the user experiences the ad. By looking at the nature of a site - including its content, purpose, architecture, navigation, functionality, and the typical user path - we can make inferences about the state of mind of the visitor, and what type of advertising would most naturally appeal to them.

This type of psychographic profiling greatly improves the relevance of the advertising, with obvious benefits to both the advertiser and the customer. In the online world, having this information about the user is the key to developing a media strategy and creative treatment which fits naturally into their online experience – as naturally as an ice cream cart at the beach on a hot weekend day

© Copyright 1999, columbus group.communications

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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