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Retail sector bouncing back from recession: ad:tech keynote

The state-of-the-industry panel was moderated by Randall Rothenberg, president/CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. In addition to talking about how advertisers are rebounding from the down economy, panelists discussed various aspects of the digital revolution, including consumer-generated content, social networking, widgets, online and mobile video, ad networks, activation, engagement, the death of television as we know it and mobile marketing.

“From a marketing perspective, retail and automotive sectors are again increasing their ad spend,” said Carolyn Everson, chief operating officer/executive vice president of U.S. ad sales at MTV Networks, New York. “We’re starting to see a new life out of Detroit, and movie-studio and video-game categories are also very strong.

“Weak categories as expected are high-end goods and financial services, but even those are coming back,” she said.

Ms. Everson said that MTV Networks is investing in four key areas relating to its media business.

“The first is yield optimization, and the second is measurement, which is a hot topic for everyone,” Ms. Everson said. “We believe we need to provide tools for advertisers to measure ROI.

“What brands are really asking for: ‘Are consumers really engaged with my brand? Am I moving the needle? Are they buying my product? Are they becoming fans and fanatics and recommending my product to their social network? Did your promotion move people to make that purchase choice?” she said. “Brands really truly don’t care about some of these measurements we all talk about.

“This is the data we have, the Internet is measurable and we can really show engagement through the purchase funnel.”

MTV’s other two areas of focus are digital media and strong branded content.

“The third is emerging platforms, such as interactive TV and the  merging of online video, mobile and linear,” Ms. Everson said. “We don’t expect these areas to return a lot in the next couple of years, but in our long-term view they will be very important.

“The fourth is creative content so that our brands such as Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central are as vital to consumers as they’ve always been,” she said.

Publisher, ad network or both?
Just as MTV launched its Tribes ad network, Time Warner’s AOL has its ad network. Third Screen Media, AOL’s mobile ad network, is in the process of being integrated under the umbrella, which will focus on smartphones.

“Connecting great content with massive scale is our goal, which is what has done for us,” said Jeff Levick, president of global advertising and strategy at AOL, New York. “Our biggest investment is around content, the importance of high-quality highly scaled premium content on the Web.

“The second is brand-based advertising, the interweaving of brands with this content,” he said. “The is third is communications and applications, including email, instant messaging and messaging tools in general, which is an emerging category for us.

“We’re not focusing on standalone apps, rather we understand communication tools as they are related to content distribution and advertising.”

As a digital publisher, AOL sees creating content that consumers want to consume as the key to attracting advertising dollars.

“Advertising is an area of great focus for us, part of our focus on brands and content, and it’s great to see the automotive category back and spending again,” Mr. Levick said. “CPG is peeking its head into digital more so than ever before, and we’re seeing more money moving online.

“There isn’t anyone really focused on creating great quality content at massive scale, and advertising sits next to content,” he said. “Having great content on the Web raises the entire Internet ecosystem, matching unique brands with particular audiences and local content as well.

“Local a big play—it is very much the white space on the Web.”

Reach consumers on all screens
A multiscreen strategy is of utmost important for publishers and advertisers alike.

“As consumers become screen agnostic, advertising campaigns have to become screen agnostic,” said Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media and senior vice president at Comcast Corp., Philadelphia. “We’ve seen remarkable success, both in entertainment and local.

“On the entertainment side, we’re very focused on building entertainment brands and acquiring and building scale in entertainment portfolio, from Fandango to working closely with sister companies E! and G4 to form Comcast Digital Entertainment,” she said. “Brands make a difference, and we’ve seen enormous success on the local front, the ability to segment online traffic by ZIP code.

“A consumer trend is that the Internet is no longer a search and discovery tool, it’s a consumption tool, and people are coming to these brands and staying with these brands, giving advertisers a great opportunity to reach their customers there.”

The Internet, whether accessed via a PC, a mobile phone or an iPod touch, offers the opportunity for advertisers to create an interactive experience for consumers to engage with their brands.

“We’re so intrigued with the Internet and the online space’s affect on advertising, which has historically been a push mechanism,” Ms. Banse said. “Online affords an interactivity we’ve never seen before, and that type of interactive experience is critical.”

Agency perspective
Publicis Groupe SA’s desire to acquire digital marketing agency Razorfish from Microsoft Corp. will bolster the French advertising holding company’s mobile brain trust.

The transaction is valued at approximately $530 million, expected to be provided in a combination of cash and Publicis Groupe treasury shares.

In addition, the parties announced they have signed a strategic alliance agreement that will become effective at the closing of the transaction, effectively making Microsoft a client of its former subsidiary (see story).

“From a holding-company point of view, Publicis continues to make investments on the digital side,” said Joe McCarthy, president/CEO of Publicis New York. “We’re in the process of acquiring Razorfish, and we have aggressive goals on the digital side of the equation.

“We’ve had a good year, with strong investments from consumer packaged goods,” he said. “P&G makes up a big part of our revenue, and they look at tough times as an opportunity to invest in their brand—they’re bullish.

“Brands want context and content—it’s all about the brand interacting with that desirable target and creativity is important without a doubt. Depending on how I as a brand engage with you as a consumer makes or breaks a transaction or brand equity.”