The Internet can be used as a powerful branding tool. Almost all the mainline portals are reporting a drastic increase in the number of advertisers seeking comprehensive online solutions. According to an Initiative media study, the Internet ad space, which was mere 0.5 per cent of the total ad pie, grew to around 34 per cent, reaching a figure of around Rs 48 crore.
Media planners may have to revise the traditional plan just, since estimates reveal that the number of subscribers could well exceed expectations. Indiatimes .com said that it expects to achieve around 50 per cent of the Internet ad pie in 2005. Upen Roop Rai, Vice President (Marketing), Indiatimes.com, said, " Indiatimes attracts a number of advertisers such as ICICI, Bajaj Alliance, Mountain Dew, Quality Walls, P&G Apparel, Levi, ITC Lifestyle and Arvind Brands. Our ad revenue has grown by 100 per cent and we have around 40 companies and 100 brands advertising with us."
Rai added, " As far as popularity goes, Indiatimes is the most visited portal in the Asian region with over 1 billion pages viewed in a month, while TOI.com and ET.com are the most visited NRI Sites." On the other end of the spectrum, Rediff.com declares itself as one of the most popular sites with a total registered user base of 24.9 million. Debasis Ghosh, spokesperson, Rediff.com, said, "Rediff has seen a substantial growth in ad revenue. The online revenues grew by 38 per cent in March 2004 as against the same quarter in the previous year."
He said, " The three-fold growth in fee-based services could account for the growth in ad revenue .The advertisers that contributed for 47 per cent of the total revenues in the quarter ended March 2003 included Citibank, ICICI, Businessworld, Bharat Petroleum, Xerox, Carrier and Hero Honda."
Sify.com is a notch apart from the rest. VV Kannan, President, Sify said, " Sify.com is the industry leader in terms of pure advertising revenues. We don't report consolidated revenues that don't represent advertising revenues clearly unlike other portals. The customised brand and communication solutions that we offer our advertisers attribute to our success."
He added, "Sify expects a larger share of ad revenue this year as compared to the previous year. We have developed some exciting online communication properties which would be very attractive for advertisers when it comes to fulfilling their needs cost effectively."
Online advertising may provide flexible solutions to advertisers, but has this medium been exploited to its optimum limit? CV Ramani, CEO, Mediaturf, pointed out some of the pitfalls that exist in the way of the online medium. He said, " This is one medium that hasn't been given its due. Most of the creatives for the online medium qualify as hand me downs from print and come across as being technologically bland." Ramani added, "There was an increase of 52 per cent in the number of advertisers opting for the online medium in 2004, in comparison with the same period in the previous year, yet the figure does not include many FMCG's and durables."
Mediaturf seeks to eliminate some of the barriers that lie in the way of online advertising by providing strategic online solutions to clients such as Pru ICICI, Lafarge, Maruti, SBI MF and Seagrams. It coordinates with leading agencies such as Euro RSCG, Grey Worldwide in order to put forward fare that is different from bland vanilla advertising.
Meanwhile, Sify.com voices concern over the fact that the Indian advertising mart is characterised by ad rates that are not bench marked but are driven by the desperation of some portals. Kannan said, " Marketers are frequently given the impression that advertising rates on the Internet is akin to a bargain scale. Spare capacities have been used as incentives and given away free-particularly in applications such as e-mail where user attention to advertising is very low."
What lies ahead for the online medium? Though the growth prospects look promising for this medium, dotcoms have a long way to go when it comes to matching up to print and television. The Internet is the only medium that offers interactivity and flexibility, the two important factors that can help establish brand equity with consumers in a unique and memorable manner. Media planners and agencies need to involve portals in the planning stage of a campaign so that innovative and relevant brand building ideas can be developed to complement the mass media.