Locked Out Of Prime Sites, Clients Try New Avenues

While increased Web advertising is causing inventory shortages in a few key categories, such as online video and portal homepage takeovers, many industry executives say ad-space crunches are temporary and point to a plethora of ways to reach consumers online.

In high-growth areas like Web video, demand oftentimes is outstripping supply. And the categories drawing the most online ad spending, such as auto and entertainment, are also experiencing some inventory shortages on prominent sites. But agency executives say these are merely short-term blips that force them to be more creative about how they reach consumers online—not a problem that will greatly inflate prices or hinder Web advertising’s growth.

“I don’t think it’s going to drive prices up too much, because there are so many options online right now,” said Jeff Marshall, svp at Starcom IP. “We haven’t run into situations where we can’t spend the client’s budget in a way that’s very intelligent, meaningful and impactful.”

Occasionally faced with not getting broad-reach placements on premium sites, agencies are adjusting their placements, and in some cases reaching desired audiences in cheaper venues. Movie studios, for instance, bank on making a big splash during a film’s opening weekend. But they are finding key placements on the front pages of Yahoo! and Moviefone unavailable, said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, a New York agency with entertainment-industry clients such as HBO, 20th Century Fox and Miramax. Instead, Deep Focus will target potential moviegoers in other areas, such as Yahoo! Mail. “We’re learning to get very creative media-wise,” he said.

For now, ad space shortages are confined to a few areas experiencing explosive growth, such as in-stream video advertising, which is expected to reach $250 million in 2005, up 79 percent from a year earlier, according to Jupiter Research.

But those shortages shouldn’t derail growth in the category, since Yahoo!, AOL, MSN and offline media giants Viacom and News Corp. rush more video online. “There will be so much more video six months from now that we won’t have any issues anymore,” predicted John Cate, national media director at Aegis Group’s Carat Fusion.

In the meantime, behavioral targeting offers the potential for opening new inventory for high-demand areas like auto and finance. For instance, auto advertisers are looking beyond often sold-out auto-comparison sites for in- market car buyers. Jumpstart Automotive, a San Francisco ad services firm specializing in auto sites, is knitting together its own auto ad network, powered by behavioral-targeting firm Revenue Science, which will cookie in-market car buyers on sites like Vehix.com, and then serve auto ads when the same visitors land on non-auto sites. “They have this really interesting behavior that can be monetized somewhere else,” said Nick Johnson, svp at Bellevue, Wash.-based Revenue Science.

As it is now, the highest-traffic Web properties gain the overwhelming majority of advertiser attention, despite the intense fragmentation of online media and frequent talk of reaching niche audiences. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the top 10 sites accounted for 74 percent of Web ad spending in the first half of 2005, essentially unchanged from a year earlier.

But new blog networks like Weblogs Inc. (bought last week by AOL), Gawker Media and Blogads are looking to make it easier for advertisers to reach micro-communities. Audi’s “Art of the Heist” promotion attracted 29 percent of site visitors through blog advertising, which made up just 0.5 percent of overall media spending, according to Brian Clark, CEO of GMD Studios, which worked with McKinney + Silver on the campaign. Jarvis Coffin, CEO of Burst Media, an ad network of 2,000 small Web sites, said advertisers need to expand their horizons beyond portals and top publishers to consumer-generated media, such as blogs, photo-sharing sites and social networks.

“It’s rather scary we’d be talking about an online crisis as if it’s all sold-out,” Coffin said. “Sure, some premium inventory is sold-out, but goodness gracious, I’m concerned we [could] miss all the opportunities being given to us.”