December 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

E-Retailers Take To The Airwaves--Again

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“We now have a lot more experience with the tool of broadcast advertising, a disciplined approach to testing it, and a product that is ready for prime time,” says Leary. “We are not spending double-digit millions out of the gate to move the needle when we don’t know yet what is going to move the needle.”’s TV ad campaign, launched Nov. 17, was a test that ran in three network markets and on cable TV until Dec. 18, near the cut-off date set by many web retailers for holiday package delivery. chose New York, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., as test markets based on a combination of their saturation of online shoppers and the CPM of doing a campaign in those locations. Awareness and traffic at the end of the campaign in those markets were to be compared with markets in which the campaign was not aired.’s ads were created by Publicis and Hal Riney Advertising

Leary also points out that DealTime and Epinions previously did broadcast advertising in the spring. “The retail market is all about October, November and December,” she says. “This time, we did it at a time when shopping is top of mind.” As an additional point, has developed a robust shopping experience that its predecessors were less equipped to deliver in early 2000, she says.

Finally, the campaign sharply focuses on the amusing presentation of the single message that is a place to go to compare multiple stores and prices from across the web. “ does a lot more, but we learned you have to make trade-offs about what you can communicate in 30 seconds,” she says. “You can try to communicate everything and wind up communicating nothing.”

Explain, position

Faced with the same challenge of explaining the concept of comparison shopping as well as positioning its offering within that new category, Yahoo’s shopping property, Yahoo Shopping, made a depiction of its price comparison grid the visual centerpiece of its Q4 offline ad campaign. In addition to a national radio buy that ran from October through mid-December, Yahoo Shopping’s print campaign ran in entertainment and newsweeklies and monthly men’s and women’s magazines in November and December.

“Print does a really good job of illustrating the comparison grid without the money that TV requires,” says P.K. Van Deloo, senior brand manager. Yahoo coordinated the print promotion of the comparison shopping feature with promotion of comparison shopping in ads throughout the Yahoo network. Van Deloo says the offline exposure helps reinforce the online network campaign. “If someone sees the print ad, then goes to Yahoo and sees the ads for comparison shopping that run across the network, there’s a better chance they’ll click over to shopping than if they just came to the network on their own,” he says.

Yahoo Shopping has done offline holiday season promotions in previous years, including TV. But with Yahoo’s vast network that advertises various properties within the network across the network for free, why go offline at all? “Our online promotion reaches people who are already Yahoo shoppers, but there are still a lot of people who are not Yahoo users and not aware of Yahoo Shopping. To build awareness in that group, offline vehicles like print and radio do a good job, especially in the holiday season when shopping is top of mind,” Van Deloo says.

Staking out the space

At the apex of dot-com TV advertising, Overstock’s Byrne steered clear of the broadcast medium, figuring it would be difficult to be heard over the crowd. But today, is waiting to see if a major investment in TV and radio brand advertising will pay off.

Since Overstock’s “Have you discovered the Big O?” broadcast campaign launched in August, traffic is up. On August 8, prior to the campaign, Overstock ranked 14th in its category with 1.18% of the day’s total online visits to department stores, according to data from Internet traffic measurement firm Hitwise. On November 17, after the campaign had been running about nine weeks, Overstock had climbed to a 6th-place ranking just behind, with a traffic share of 3.67% for its category.

The broadcast campaign, estimated to cost in the high single-digit millions, is a departure from last year’s ad spending, when all but about $50,000 of Overstock’s $8 million to $9 million marketing budget went to online, performance-based advertising. Weighing into Overstock’s TV buy was the fact that in comparison to three years ago, few online retailers are doing TV advertising, meaning that consumers more easily remember those who do. But more than anything, according to Byrne, the move to broadcast advertising and the bigger play for broader public awareness represents a preemptive strike against competitors.

“The Nordstrom space is taken in the online public’s consciousness by Amazon. You’ve got Bluefly in apparel, Hotels and Expedia in the travel space, and eBay doing its own thing. There is a big open space for online discount shopping,” he says. “We thought there was the opportunity to brand ourselves in that space quickly before anyone else does, which would give anyone else an uphill battle.”

Overstock lowered campaign costs by forgoing the services of an agency and doing both the creative and the media buy in-house. Using ad industry indices, the media buy was designed to focus primarily on outlets whose audiences include a disproportionately large share of Internet shoppers.

Byrne wouldn’t disclose the campaign’s impact on sales, other than to say the increase in traffic has been followed “to some extent” by a gain in sales. “I won’t really be able to say if this was worth it until Dec. 26,” he says.

Educating the couch potatoes

Everybody understands the concept of discounted merchandise, at the core of Overstock’s value proposition. But, which sells downloadable digital music, has to explain both its category and its product to cultivate sales among a wider, more mainstream audience of music lovers.

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