Back in the mid-1990s, many companies didn’t have websites (my son, est.2001, doesn’t believe this). Those which did have one wanted to shout about it. Sensing an opportunity, many magazines (including the one I edited) introduced a section where advertisers could show pictures of their websites and – with any luck – attract a few readers to type the URL into their copy of Netscape Navigator. Well, there weren’t really any search engines then, so telling people about your website was the only way to get visitors.
I think this section of the magazine fulfilled a useful function for the publishers, advertisers and readers. And it would continue to do so for another five years or so until the end of the decade. By then, it could be taken for granted that every company had a website, and web users had stopped looking up URLs and were typing company names into a search engine instead.
So what on earth are these sections still doing at the backs of magazines in 2009? Why would a reader want to see a page wasted on showing tiny pictures of websites accompanied by 50-word captions by the proud owners? It’s a trick question, of course: no reader would give that page a second glance. Don’t blame the magazine publishers though – they’re only running them because advertisers will still book them (if nagged enough by sales reps).
There used to be a saying in advertising along the lines of “I know only half of my advertising works, but I don’t know which half”. Today with pay-per-click advertising and other fully accountable techniques, there’s little excuse for that. And every excuse for saying no to salesmen offering pointless small ads at the back of journals. Advertise properly or don’t do it at all.