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Exploring the potential of the Internet as an advertising medium

Given the newness of the Internet as a medium to reach kids with advertising, the challenges of creating advertising for this quickly evolving tool are newly being tackled as more advertisers add an on-line component to their marketing plans....
February 1, 1999

Given the newness of the Internet as a medium to reach kids with advertising, the challenges of creating advertising for this quickly evolving tool are newly being tackled as more advertisers add an on-line component to their marketing plans.

Games have proven to be a winner with kids in on-line advertising, says Shawn Gold, VP of strategic planning at New York-based Rare Medium, an interactive communications agency that has developed Web sites for such clients as Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Hot Wheels, Animorphs, General Mills, Butterfinger and Bugle Boy. Games in particular hit upon the proven successful formula of challenge, achievement and reward by, for example, challenging kids to seek objects on the site in a treasure hunt, posting winners’ names in honor rolls and, in some cases, providing product as prizes.

Translating a brand into this kind of interactive experience requires building many layers of content, and a more targeted creative approach. For Chips Ahoy!, Rare Medium developed the chip blaster game as a way to engage kids and to communicate that there are more than 1,000 chips in every bag. Activities such as this offer consumers a ‘deeper experience of the brand,’ says Gold, as opposed to delivering a quick-hit message in a 30-second TV spot. Web sites also serve as vehicles to host contests and promotions, and to introduce new products to consumers.

What enhances the experience for the consumer is the ability to customize the site to each user. For example, the Hot Wheels site allows kids to create their own on-line license plate.

For advertisers, kids who seek out a site on-line tend to be a highly desirable audience since these kids went to the effort of finding the site, then spent time exploring it. Still, says Gold, only a portion of the kids audience is currently on the Web.

Getting additional kids to the site requires knowledge of what kids look for when searching for sites. ‘Games,’ ‘free stuff’ and ‘humor’ are among the top search words used by kids on the Yahoo! engine.

Anticipating increased traffic is a technological challenge when creating a site. Since most sites are database-driven, additional users means additional stress on the site. Sites must also be built to incorporate new technology as it becomes available.

For the larger sites that Rare Medium has developed, budgets run in the range of US$500,000 to US$1 million, including the media buy, for the first year. Smaller sites can start at US$100,000.

Proving the value of on-line advertising to clients can be difficult since sites cannot measure the impact on sales. Efforts such as on-line promotions provide a more measurable outcome by allowing advertisers to track the amount of in-store traffic generated or the number of participants.

An additional incentive to advertisers is the ability to use a Web site to find out information about the target audience. Still, Gold cautions, advertisers must be aware of parents’ concerns about protecting the privacy of their kids on-line and not exposing them to inappropriate content. To succeed, sites need to provide content that is not only fun for kids but that makes parents feel comfortable with their kids spending time on a site. The best approach, says Gold, is to tell kids and parents up front that a site is an advertising vehicle. As media options go, while on-line lacks in numbers, it offers creatives a whole new two-way option in their ad palette.

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