In Internet lore, enduring brands like Google and Amazon were built mostly without traditional advertising. But that might be changing, as Web brands are seeing the power of TV to acquire customers at a cheap cost.
Take people search site MyLife. It has compiled over 200 million personal profiles and makes money when people subscribe to find a person's information or see who has searched for their details. In May, it started a $500,000 per month national cable TV push that led to a 33 percent increase in unique visitors by July, according to comScore.
The company estimates TV is now contributing one-third of all conversions. It has also increased online marketing effectiveness, according to MyLife CEO Jeff Tinsley.
"You don't see the guys who have a pure ad model spending on TV," he said. "It's the guys who have a business model that can support TV that are out there spending money to scale their business."
The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company plans to spend $30 million on TV ads in 2011.
MyLife worked with creative shop Handmade for the spots and media agency Ocean Media for planning and buying. The spots have run primarily on national cable channels like ESPN2, Planet Green and BBC America.
In one spot, a woman sitting on a couch uses the site to find seven people have searched for her on the site. A voiceover tells viewers to go to the site to see if someone is searching from them for free. (To see details, MyLife charges from $9.95-13.95 per month subscription fee.)
It's not the only Internet brand to buck the trend against TV ads. EHarmony is a sizable advertiser, with $87 million spent on TV last year, according to Nielsen, along with others like Overstock.com and GoDaddy.
Tinsley believes data-focused Web companies can now justify TV campaigns in order to reach a large audience quickly -- something that online marketing methods often cannot. For those reasons, he wouldn't be surprised if fast-growing Internet upstarts like Zynga and Groupon turn to TV at some
"TV is truly scalable," Tinsley said. "It's easy to spend a little more in the right places."