Online advertising has finally become an "essential component" of Australian marketing schedules, claims Ninemsn ceo Martin Hoffman. His view is underscored by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which tracked A$236 million (US$179.83; €148.77m; £97.85m) in online adspend during 2003, up from A$140 million in 2002.

"Online is no longer something that's tagged on to the end of the schedule," says Hoffman, head honcho of the joint venture between Microsoft and Publishing & Broadcasting Limited, owner of Australia's dominant TV network Nine.

But, Hoffman's enthusiasm notwithstanding, online's share of the total national ad cake remains minuscule, compared with TV and newspapers which respectively lured revenues of A$2.2 billion and A$3.1bn.

In terms of growth, however, it's a different story. Australia's total ad market grew by an estimated seven percent in 2003, while online streaked ahead by 51%, attaining revenues on a par with those before the global ad downturn in 2002.

"We have seen a real change in attitudes in the last six months. [Marketers] finally 'get' online now," says Hoffman. Starcom IP director Brendan Copper agrees: "There is a greater acceptance by marketers that online should be part of every campaign; in fact they're demanding it."

Financial companies remain the biggest cyber-spenders, followed by computer technology companies and carmakers. Twenty-nine percent of all spend went to the 'search and directories' category (where a company pays for a listing at the top of a search result).

Starcom predicts the serach category will grow by 100% in 2004. Enthuses Copper: "It's the ultimate ad. We serve an ad at exactly the moment that the user wants it."

The expenditure figures are from the Online Advertising Expenditure report published by the Audit Bureau of Circulations from data supplied by 80% of online companies operating in Australia. Among these are AOL7, f2 Network, Ninemsn, Seek, Sensis and Yahoo!

Data sourced from: Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff