By Andrea Siedsma April 2001 - The online advertising drought hasn’t completely drained all Hispanic Web sites, but it’s going to be a long, dry summer. On the longer-term horizon, the Hispanic sector of cyberspace has some structural problems, ranging from how to track Hispanic Web users to the battle for legitimacy with advertisers. Figures reveal that at least some Hispanic Web sites are faring well in the unsettled online market. For example, Latino.com, which cut its staff to just two employees in January, grabbed 45.3 million impressions during the same month, according to AdZone Interactive, a New York-based Internet research company. Other top ad revenue generators for January were Starmedia.com/shopping, Zonai.com, and Latinolink.com (see table). Total estimated ad spending on U.S. Hispanic Web sites in January tallied to more than $9.6 million. AdZone also reports that despite dot-com layoffs over the last year, overall online advertising grew 5 percent between December 2000 and January 2001. The company uses its proprietary NetGet technology to monitor more than 2,000 international Web sites, charging a fee for the resultant data. The automated system uses seven large computers that simultaneously track ad revenues on the Web by advertiser, brand, industry, date range, impressions, geographic location, and expenditures. The data are used by advertisers, ad agencies, Web sites, Wall Street analysts, and marketing consultants. The NetGet technology, which debuted two years ago, picks up all forms of online advertising, including banners, pop-ups, hover text, text ads, and audio and video blurbs, according to John Cardona, president and CFO of AdZone. In the future, the company plans to experiment with culling advertising data from the wireless Internet. Although the number of impressions reported by AdZone is straight from the computer, the ad revenues involve estimating what advertisers pay, raising some concerns among industry skeptics. “They don’t know how much the advertisers actually paid. A lot of those ads can be free,” says Felipe Korzenny, principal and co-founder of Cheskin Research. “The only thing you can do is have the companies report [the figures] themselves.” Mr. Korzenny, for example, questions the monthly ad revenues Latino.com generates. “I doubt two or three people are bringing in half a million [advertising] dollars a month,” he says (see table). “We use a rate-card methodology because that is the fairest way to compare brand A to brand B,” explains Mr. Cardona, who runs AdZone with his brother Charles, the CEO. “Nobody out there knows what discount you get or I get.” Gene Bryan, CEO of New York-based HispanicAd.com, affirms that the Hispanic Internet market doesn’t have an accurate and established tracking system like television’s Nielsen ratings. “There still is no research on the Hispanic market that can really define the deliverables of a Hispanic Internet site,” he maintains, adding that HispanicAd.com, an advertising and media news site, is solely supported by ad revenues. More time must pass, Mr. Bryan says, before Hispanic Web sites gain their fair share of the multibillion-dollar advertising pie. “I think the Hispanic industry as a whole created an expectation on their deliverables,” he says. “The deliverables could not occur in the time span expected. Those sales expectations are very difficult to attain when you’re dealing with a marketplace such as the U.S. Hispanic market, which traditionally has been conservative and has used traditional advertising like radio, TV, and print.” Mr. Cardona, on the other hand, believes advertising opportunities on the Web are limitless. “This is a dynamic medium. It’s not like TV, where you only have so many choices. On the Internet, you have an infinite number of Web sites to go to. This is real time. There are so many options available to the advertisers.” Although Mr. Cardona thinks Hispanic Web sites have lowered their advertising rates on account of the skepticism advertisers bring to the Web, Mr. Bryan believes Hispanic Web sites offer lower ad rates because some media buyers simply assume minority markets should be discounted. He says many advertisers want more research on the Hispanic market before they will advertise on a Hispanic site. “There are a lot of positives to research,” says Mr. Bryan, a former sales executive with Katz Spanish Media. “You have the ability to go into a level playing field and battle it out for your share of the dollars. Many times those dollars have never been in the Hispanic market. The hardest part is trying to increase that dollar value.” According to AdZone, the top 10 advertisers on U.S. Hispanic Web sites in January included WesternUnion.com, fiera.com, AOL.com FREE, Latino.com, Gap.com, and Teenpregnancy.org (see table). Yet Mr. Korzenny believes that in the long run, Fortune 500 companies will keep advertising dollars flowing to U.S. Hispanic Web sites. “Univision.com has interesting marketing programs. They have partnered with companies such as Gateway. By doing this kind of affiliation they have a really good chance to reach the consumer,” he says. StarMedia Networks, which targets Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers in the United States and Latin America, has captured the interest and money of big corporate advertisers. Seventy-five percent of the company’s advertisers are Fortune 500 companies. The majority of StarMedia’s revenues, estimated at $62.7 million in 2000, comes from online advertising. The company has formal strategic marketing partnerships with the likes of L’Oréal and Pepsi-Cola International. Adrianna Kampfner, StarMedia’s senior vice-president of sales and business development, says such partnerships are key to survival, especially since many dot-coms are spending less on Internet advertising. Granted, landing these Fortune 500 deals isn’t easy – it’s all about educating potential advertisers and selling them on brand loyalty. “In terms of competing with traditional media, it’s really about changing the way you connect to your desired consumer,” Ms. Kampfner says. “Instead of thinking of the Internet as a separate budget, why not include the Internet in your total budget? … We’re trying to show companies how to do that better.” Ms. Kampfner emphasizes that U.S. Hispanic Web sites need to look outside the country to keep playing in the online advertising game. Online ad spending in Latin America will grow to $260 million this year from $121 million in 2000, according to Massachusetts-based Forrester Research. Latin American Internet advertising revenues are expected to jump to $1.2 billion in 2005, according to Jupiter Communications, a New York-based research and consulting firm. Mr. Bryan of HispanicAd.com predicts that the U.S. Hispanic Web-site market won’t claim huge audience numbers until 2003. Hispanic Web sites have a long way to go before they see big ad dollars, he says, and which sites will survive until then is uncertain. “You have to have a lot of staying power here,” Mr. Bryan declares. “The Internet is not for the weak at heart at this stage.” He predicts that the survivors’ list will include StarMedia, Terra Lycos, and Univision.com. He adds that advertising agencies will take a look at some specific vertical niche sites, such as those geared toward women, sports, and automobiles. The ability to create repeat users will help a site gain more ad dollars. But he warns that most Internet sites lose 80 percent of their users on the first visit because the information the visitors sought was unavailable or hard to find. “The [sites] that are successful in retaining new users are able to turn that relationship into a benefit for the advertisers,” Mr. Bryan continues. “That’s where you get into branding.” The difference between advertising and branding starts with a loyal user base, something StarMedia has developed. The portal has an estimated audience of 40 percent to 50 percent of the Internet users in more than 20 countries. What’s StarMedia’s formula? For one thing, it doesn’t rely just on ad banners. “For us, a click on a banner is nothing more than a doorway,” says Ms. Kampfner. “And doorways should be connected to a more comprehensive goal and strategy [for the advertiser].”
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