Online ad network makes the case ad networks

You’d think the last thing a business would want to advertise is the drawbacks of its product or service.

But that’s precisely what Undertone, the online ad network operator, did the evening of Monday, April 30.

What’s even stranger about what they’re saying is where they chose to say it.

Selling your product by knocking it?

Undertone says its online advertising is the way for brands to “stand out and be remembered.”

To prove this, they’re telling advertising agency decision-makers across the country that online ads get lost in massive clutter and are therefore forgotten.

Specifically, they’re saying that more than 4.8 billion online display ads appeared last year (including, in all probability, a whole bunch from Undertone clients).

Then they’re asking, “How many do you remember?” “In fact”, says Media Online Daily, they “go out of their way to point out how forgettable online ads actually are.”

Not exactly the most convincing argument for buying online display advertising.

If your medium’s so good, why do you have to use a competitor?

What’s even stranger than the message is the medium they’ve chosen for it. “Undertone isn’t using the medium it pitches to advertisers and agencies,” MediaPost editor Joe Mandese reports, “it’s utilizing television.”

Undertone bought two 30-second spots on AMC cable’s season premier of “The Pitch,” a reality series about advertising agencies competing for new business.

It’s certainly not an efficient buy. They’ll be spending an estimated $112,000 plus at least that much in production costs to reach a handful of media buyers at the Martin Agency and their counterparts outside Richmond. The cost per thousand (media cost divided by the number of people in your target audience, expressed as a fraction of one thousand) must be so astronomical, it rivals the federal deficit.

The rationale for the buy undercuts the rationale for the online display advertising that Undertone is trying to sell.

Online advertising’s main selling points are that (1) it’s cheaper than traditional media and (2) it targets visitors behaviorally; in this case, that would mean having the ability to pop up on advertising decision-makers’ displays when they’re thinking about advertising decisions.

Maybe more advertising people will be watching “The Pitch” than other cable shows. But that’s not necessarily a lot of decision-makers. And nobody knows for sure how many will be watching nor how long they’ll stay tuned.

One thing we do know is that when Undertone has to use television to push its online ad network, or when consumer brands buy national network and cable television to drive traffic to their websites and Facebook pages, that indicates a certain, shall we say, lack of confidence in the effectiveness of online media.