Clients going back to basics will give digital a wake-up

Amid the talk of economic down-turns and credit crunches, there is an interesting trend emerging among the attitudes of clients to the advertising outlook for 2009. At the risk of coming over all John Major, the consensus seems to be that it's time to go "back to basics".

The message being transmitted to some media owners and agencies by advertisers is that all this social networking, mobile and digital stuff is fine up to a point, but in a tough market it's time to concentrate on proven channels that deliver guaranteed response.

Instead of experimenting, clients are moving towards putting their money into prime-time TV or other more established media channels that have proved themselves in the past. At the same time, they are also demanding extra value from their agencies and better prices for their media, with TV ads set to be cheaper than they've ever been next year.

And an American study for marketing services outfit Epsilon suggested US advertisers are still reluctant to incorporate social networking media into their plans, because they aren't yet seeing the link between high levels of traffic and real cut-through to the consumers they want to reach. This effect is mirrored in the UK, and not just in social media: newspaper websites attract extremely high traffic, but have yet to turn that into significant revenues.

The demise of web portal Lycos last week, one of the biggest names in the dotcom boom that has finally given up the ghost, was another stark reminder that traffic alone is not enough to sustain an advertising-led business.

Digital media owners have to prove the effectiveness of their various channels, which makes the need for the JICIMS web measurement initiative to establish itself in 2009 absolutely paramount.

It's obviously ludicrous to talk about the death of digital. But the next year to 18 months will focus advertisers' and agencies' minds on return on investment more than ever. That represents an opportunity for established media to remind us that they aren't finished yet - and provides a wake-up call to digital media owners who must prove the link between their inventory and advertising effectiveness.

- Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week, steve.barrett@haymarket.com, www.mediaweek.co.uk/stevebarrettblog

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