NEW YORK: Web advertising is more effective on sites offering premium editorial content than generic portals, or when inventory is purchased through ad networks, a study by the Online Publishers Association has found.

It has been argued that many brands are increasingly looking to use the internet as an advertising platform during the downturn, as it is seen as being a more accountable medium than many forms of traditional media.

Despite this, IDC estimated that online adspend declined by 7% on an annual basis, to $6.2 billion (€4.3bn; £3.7bn), in the US in the second quarter of this year, following on from a slide of 5% in the period from January to March.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consultancy, has also predicted that internet display advertising revenues will fall by 17% in 2009.

The OPA, an industry body that represents web publishers including the New York Times, ESPN, MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal, commissioned research into which types of online ads displayed the highest degree of efficacy.

Its findings were based on research carried out by Dynamic Logic, part of WPP Group, into 4,800 digital marketing campaigns conducted over the last three years.

Among the figures uncovered by the company were that the number of web users who recalled seeing a brand advertised in the last 30 days was 21% higher for content-based sites than for generic portals like Yahoo and AOL.

This positive difference reached 50% for content-driven sites when compared with executions placed by ad networks, defined in this case as "aggregators and sellers of non-premium ad inventory, typically across small to medium size third-party sites."

Moreover, Dynamic Logic's analysis discovered that these networks typically provided "advertisers with the smallest change in ad effectiveness – including no change in purchase intent."

Indeed, purchase intent among consumers exposed to advertising on content-drive sites was almost two-thirds higher than for services such as MSN, nine times greater than for ad networks, and 50% above current industry benchmarks.

The intention to purchase also rose by 77% among 18–34 year olds consuming ads on OPA member sites when measured against portals, and was actually negative when it came to ad network inventory.

The automotive, consumer packaged goods, entertainment and telecoms sectors were among the categories which saw significantly improved metrics as a result of having their ads featured alongside prime journalistic content.

Martin Nisenholtz, svp of digital operations for the New York Times, said "a brand marketer might be tempted in a recessionary economy to look for the lower-cost option. What this study shows is that the lower-cost option is not a productive solution."

However, Jeff Levick, president of global advertising and strategy at AOL, argued that "we see value for advertising" on content-driven sites, broad-based portals and via ad networks.

Bill Wise, vp of business developme

Data sourced from OPA/Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff