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This week two enticing articles highlight the concerns of brand marketers entering the online advertising space, and the challenge publishers face in providing media environments that help build brands and resonate with audiences. Here’s your bill of fare:

Appetizer: The Washington Post’s Sunday Ombudsman shares the gripes of readers shellacked by ads that damage user experience. Wraparounds, expandables, full-page takeovers that make the venerable newspaper appear as nothing more than an automotive subsidiary: the Post is one of many publications exploring how to create useful branding products without alienating audiences. Often through a series of false steps. One reader expressed (warranted) anger at the Post’s juxtaposition of those ubiquitous “tiny belly” ads alongside a rather serious figure: the Dalai Lama. In this light it’s not hard to appreciate the worry among marketers hoping that the Post will influence the perception of their brand…

Main Course: Chip Bayers’ AdWeek spread takes a much deeper look at the approach of online media companies (which don’t even consider media their core business) and how their culture clashes with the ethos and operations on Madison Avenue. A pointed selection:

One big reason for the relatively small digital ad spend is that brand managers don’t want their ads caught anywhere near much of the existing online inventory, derived as it is from the direct marketing world of junk mail…. “We’ve got decades and decades of experience that says building my brand drives sales—and all that direct response and discounting does is drive my brand into the toilet,” says one former brand manager.

This really highlights the crunch for publishers: while scaled networks and performance ads can fill out the inventory with nickels and dimes, the deluge of direct-response media scares off the big-dollar brand leaders. You can find outlets that cater to branding buys, but you need to know how to look.

Not a few digital agencies have lamented that the incredible results they achieve with direct-response make their clients incapable of seeing the internet’s branding potential. But to move the needle, good digital planners have to consider more than just the product and placement for a branding campaign: they need to know the context and environment where it lives (context here in the traditional media sense). The ad that viewers expect to see in your real estate may be just as important as the ad you place – and if they’re expecting the “tiny belly,” you could be in more than a bit of trouble.

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