After a three-day assault by hackers on several leading Web sites early this month, advertisers united behind the affected e-companies, reconfirming the staying power of the Internet. Displaying unfaltering confidence in the medium, advertisers and Web companies alike dismissed the service disruptions as growing pains that are characteristic of any evolving technology.
“There are going to be temporary setbacks,” said Joshua Kopelman, co-founder and president of Half.com, a bargain-basement shopping site based in Conshohocken, Pa. This month’s ruckus will not prevent Kopelman from placing $15 million to $25 million in advertising this year on Web sites, including affected sites CNN.com and ZDNet. “As a merchant, you can’t ignore that so much momentum is pushing people towards online shopping,” Kopelman said.
Starting with an attack on the Yahoo! portal on Feb. 7, the three-day siege crippled such major Web sites as retailer Buy.com, news source CNN.com, auctioneer eBay, brokerage house E*Trade and bookseller Amazon.com. The assaults slowed the affected sites for up to five hours.
While building up defenses against future attacks, most of the affected Web sites called the temporary service disruptions “insignificant” and said they couldn’t measure any impact on advertising or ad revenue.
For example, the three-hour attack on Santa Clara, Calif.-based Yahoo! raised security concerns within the company, but no great alarm regarding lost advertising.
Like most other ad-driven sites, Yahoo! guarantees advertisers that a banner ad will appear a certain number of times during a contract period. If a banner advertiser misses display time because of a service disruption, sites usually make good during the remaining contract term or extend it if need be. Any lost advertising time caused by the Feb. 7-9 disruptions will likely be dealt with in these ways.
Although the Web powerhouse netted $588.6 million in revenue last year–much of it attributable to its 3,550 advertisers–the site rotates paid advertising with public service announcements and Yahoo! banners. When incidents of this nature happen, the site swaps the non-paid ads with paid spots to make up for any loss.
“Yahoo! has enough in its [banner ad] inventory that’s beyond what’s being sold to give them enough head room,” a company spokesperson said.
Other affected sites are also taking the incidents in stride. “There are great fluctuations on the Web, due to ISP unavailability, disruptions, a number of things,” said Alan Phillips, vice president of technology and operations for San Francisco-based ZDNet, a media site downed two-and-a-half hours on Feb. 9. “If we fail to deliver about 10 percent of the impressions on a given day, we would then try to distribute the rest evenly during the rest of the campaign.”
Advertisers are also unruffled. Kopelman of Half.com expressed no qualms about lost advertising time. “The disruptions were for such a short duration, a two- or four-hour type of thing,” he said. “We have a fairly high level of confidence that we will receive the number of impressions we paid for.”
Ongoing problems would be a different matter. “For now, we’re still treating them as isolated,” Kopelman said. “If the frequency or duration changed, then we’d have to re-evaluate.”
Representatives from DrugEmpor-ium.com and small business marketplace Onvia.com, advertisers with CNN.com and E*Trade respectively, echoed Kopelman’s sentiments.
“Look at all the hours the site is up and running,” said Gretchen Sorensen, director of public relations at Seattle-based Onvia. Despite potential disruptions, advertising online is “a great way to get our message out to customers and potential customers,” she said.
Brad Mitchell, chief marketing officer for DrugEmporium.com, a Columbus, Ohio-based health and wellness site, agreed, adding, “If there’s any sort of disruption, they’ll do ‘make goods.’ “
According to Susan Bratton, vice chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau, temporary disruptions could cause the greatest problems for advertisers that have signed on for content sponsorship or for temporal targeting, which is tied to a specific time of day.
If an advertiser either sponsors content or provides content for a Web site, a disruption would suspend traffic to the advertiser’s site. For instance, an advertiser who sponsors an article appearing in the morning on a site may miss out on potential clickthroughs in the event of an a.m. outage.
In the case of temporal targeting–receiving impressions during a specific time of day–the advertiser would lose out if an outage occurred during the scheduled time. For example, if a candy bar company placed a mid-afternoon banner to lure workers suffering from the “munchies,” the company may forfeit potential customers due to a disruption during a snack attack.
But even in these cases, the problems are easily remedied, Bratton said. To correct the situation, Web sites could extend the term of the contract with the advertiser, she pointed out.
Bratton, who is also vice president of market development for Excite@Home, described the Feb. 9 attack on the 2,000-advertiser site as “very minimal” and lasting for a “very short duration.”
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