Advertising: Internet Sponsorships for an Online Model

By Stuart Elliott


A system to measure the effectiveness of Internet sponsorships as a brandbuilding tool for advertisers is being introduced this week.

The measurement system, called the Sponsorship Effectiveness Index, is a joint venture of Next Century Media in New Paltz, N.Y., a new-media consulting company; Studio One Networks in New York, which creates and distributes content on the Internet; and American Demographics magazine in Stamford, Conn., published by the Intertec/Primedia division of Primedia.

The index measures variables like the awareness of a product among consumers as well as their willingness to consider that product and intent to purchase it.

The index has been developed to address the concerns of marketers about Internet advertising as the medium comes under scrutiny as never before.

"There's a search for a viable advertising business model for the Internet," said Bill Harvey, chief executive and president at New Century. "Internet ads are going for a low cost per thousand because of a belief they're not worth very much."

Sponsorships are often considered a workable alternative to traditional ads because they play down their commercial nature, an approach welcomed by jaded consumers weary of being peddled products in ways deemed abrasive or obtrusive.

"With a proliferation of products, services, channels of communication, people are looking for beacons of reliability and trust," said John P. McManus, associate publisher at American Demographics, which is becoming involved with the index as part of plans "to associate ourselves with proprietary ways to gain insight into consumer behavior."

But sponsorships are often more costly and more elaborate than conventional ads, generating doubts among some advertisers as to whether they really want to spend the additional time and money.

To determine the effect of Internet sponsorships, a study was conducted during which computer users clicking on a link to a sponsored program were intercepted by a pop-up screen. Those who expressed a willingness to answer questions were then sent to the program. Half got the program with the sponsor mentioned and half not.

The results of the study showed that Internet users exposed to the sponsor's mention were more willing to consider the brands sold by the sponsor. And those who had never bought a brand before expressed a greater intent to purchase that brand.

More important, the study concluded that while advertising can change a consumer's perception of a specific sponsor, which can "rub off positively" on the brands of that sponsor in terms of willingness to buy those brands. The study called that effect "gratitude," or "appreciation," in that a change in the perception of the sponsor, rather than the brands, caused a positive change in willingness to buy the brands.

Andrew Sussman, president and chief executive at Studio One, said the index also had applications for traditional media like television. For instance, advertisers are being encouraged to sponsor listings and other onscreen features on the new personal video recorders sold by TiVo and ReplayTV, which enable consumers to "zap" commercials while watching live television.

Studio One produces sponsored Internet programs on topics like cars and families for marketers like Honda, Mitsubishi, Nestle, and Procter & Gamble.


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