WebClub and Online vs Offline

Last night I went at the Web-Club event organized by Cristian Manafu, an online industry networking and business development event where the main subject was the question “Is Online Overrated?” The debate was moderated by Bogdana Butnar and had among the guests Bogdan Naumovici, one of the well known figures of creative advertising in Romania.

The event was dynamic, entertaining as well as eye opening. Bogdan Naumovici faced a full room of online activists (publishers, agencies, bloggers, etc) and managed to challenge their core beliefs about what the online industry looks like in reality. Arguments around themes such as “internet is bigger than print” or “internet will soon overthrow TV” were heatedly debated by the audience, only to bring forth painful realities related to the small size of the online advertising market or its very incipient status in Romania.

As it is typical with us, Romanians, people started placing blames on various industry parts when faced with the challenges posed by Bogdan Naumovici. It’s either the clients’ fault because they’re dumb or uneducated, it’s either the agencies’ fault because they’re not educating the market enough and it’s even the publishers’ fault for not being able to sell their wares properly to the clients.

In my opinion, some of the most important issues are the inability to properly target the online audience and the huge discrepancy between the budgets directed towards offline media as compared to interactive media.

First of all, we are unable to fully target demographically, psychographically and based on the customer’s state of mind at a specific point in time and location in space. The idea is to be able to communicate your message to the client in the place, at the time and with the medium that he’s most receptive to. In this sense, I even think that the offline manages to pull this issue off better at this moment, although the online has all the tools to do it better, faster and less costly than offline will ever be able to.

If the above issue would be solved, maybe the huge discrepancy between the advertising budgets and the media they are focused on will decrease. In my opinion, almost 50% of the Romanian population is already online and connected to this interactive medium. Why is it then that only 2-3% of the total advertising budget makes its way into it (at least this was the situation in 2008 in Romania)? I mean yeah, there is still 50% of the potential customers that are not digitally connected, but if we were to properly profile the two major segments, I’m pretty sure most of the advertising clients will prefer the digital generation.

But I guess getting into heated debates about all these is a bit premature, since we’re still activating in a very incipient market that only now tries to define itself and grow, being still far away from anything that resembles a mature and well developed market. Maybe it will not take 20-40 years for it to reach a more stable and mature status, as Bogdan Naumovici stated, but, in my opinion, it will still take at least 5 more years until the online industry will function somewhere close to properly.

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