Internet advertising clicks on national level, but not locally

TRAVERSE CITY – The growth of advertising on the Internet took a sharp upward turn in the first quarter, with Nielsen Monitor-Plus reporting a 46 percent gain over the first quarter of 2005. Online advertising is one aspect of the industry's rebound from the 2001 dotcom crash and part of an overall five percent gain in ad spending for the first half of the year.

How is this wired trend playing out with advertisers in the Grand Traverse area?

Not at all, according to four of the five ad agencies contacted by the Business News.

"We haven't had clients request (internet ad placement) and we haven't recommended it either," says Green Light Marketing account supervisor Kim Marian.

One barrier is that some local advertisers view the Internet as a tool to reach primarily younger audiences.

"The overall demographic of this region is older," says Michael Kent, a long-time Traverse City ad agent. "In large part this is a retirement community."

A lack of local web sites to advertise on is also seen as a deterrent.

"It's not applicable to our market," says web site developer Tom Barrons of Traverse City's Byte Productions. "You're only going to find ad space on web sites that have major text content and in this market I can't think of one."

And if local advertisers are reaching out via web sites with a national presence, they're not placing the ads through local media buyers. They may be working with agencies located in larger urban areas, Barrons says.

However, not all local agencies are sticking to traditional channels to spread their clients' message.

An exception is Flight Path Creative. "Advertisers are absolutely asking for more sponsorship of content on sites related to their product or industry," says co-founder Aaron Swanker. "We're seeing about a 35 percent increase in clients expressing interest."

Flight Path's business-to-business as well as business-to-consumer clients are looking for alternative ways to reach customers. Additionally, reliable measurement and low cost are advantages, Swanker says.

"It's hard to measure results in traditional advertising. With online, we can get traffic reports and you're only paying for performance."

While local agencies may not be selling online ads, it doesn't mean they aren't recommending other ways to utilize the Internet.

Idea Stream is urging clients to use email to contact lists of select consumers, says founder Raelene Wooden-Hall.

"Email blasts to a loyal customer base are more personalized and less expensive, and I think more popular than web advertising."

Working with clients to optimize their own web sites is another trend, Marian says.

The advantages-in both cost and accountability-of Internet advertising may change the local picture in the future.

"The majority of businesses in this area are seasonal and they're not doing anything other than putting their web site address on brochures," says Lisa Wehr, founder of Lake Leelanau-based Oneupweb, which specializes in online marketing. "That's a little behind the curve when it comes to adopting the Internet as a way to grow their businesses. But there's lots of growth still to occur."