Real Time: The Web's New Prime Time


NEW YORK The Internet was always fast. Google made a point during its rise to prominence to detail -- to the millisecond -- just how quickly it delivered a search result. And, as we all know, the Web has gotten even faster.
Real-time communications channels like Twitter are pushing the Internet into "real time," where communication and information flow nonstop. This presents advertisers with a dizzying array of opportunities -- and a daunting number of challenges.

Marketers "are built like battleships for long, sustained warfare, [but] this is guerrilla warfare," said Lisa Bradner, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

One of the most intense challenges is the new speed with which messages need to be crafted. Think of display advertising, which is in the doldrums thanks to a nearly limitless supply of space outstripping ad demand. With a large chunk of the market transitioning to a marketplace-driven dynamic where advertisers, networks and agencies bid on ad placements based on people, not pages, a message -- and its permutations -- increasingly needs to be made on the fly. And this, in turn, means extra work up front.

HP, for instance, using tools from Yahoo and Tumri, recently ran a campaign with more than 20,000 ad permutations. To do this, said Catherine Paschkewitz, director of demand generation, HP Direct, "you need to take the time to think of your testing framework and the different things you want to test. It's having an up-front process as you're launching and refreshing campaigns."

Another way to make display ads more real time is to use live video. Visa, for instance, ran live video in banner ads earlier this year that showed scenes from cities worldwide. Last month, Intel embedded live chat in its banners. Earlier this month, GE CEO Jeff Immelt delivered a Webcast address on healthcare issues live in a banner ad on top sites. And Volvo and Intuit have piped Twitter into ad units.

Another challenge for brands is that consumers now expect instant gratification when it comes to customer service, which is why marketers like Apple, Bank of America and now provide live customer service on their sites. Kevin Kohn, evp of marketing at LivePerson, which worked with BoA and Overstock, said this is nearly a requirement in a real-time world.

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