February 27, 2008 4:00 AM PST

Lending companies reduce online advertising

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"If financial advertisers pull back their online ad spending it's going to have an impact on all the companies receiving a share of that money," said Pete Petrusky, an online advertising analyst with PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Still, Petrusky and others say that in a recession, search advertising should remain strong because it provides a more immediate return for marketers compared with traditional advertising.

"Our experience is that on the search side, any performance-based media is less likely to be affected because marketers are paying on a price per lead. Our feeling is that as ad budgets get cut--and if the economy gets soft they will get cut--performance will less likely be cut than general impression or branding ads," said Geoff Yang, a venture capitalist and partner at Redpoint Ventures, which has investments in search companies Oodle.com and TheFind.com.

Yang added that the industry might see 10 percent cutbacks across the board in such an event, and that his companies are already seeing signs of recession in the online advertising business.

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Other data backs that less-than-gloomy notion. A recent report from JupiterResearch said financial services would continue to be the strongest category for online ad spending. (The companies typically split their online budgets 50/50 between paid search and display ads, according to the research firm.) Financial services will boost online ad spending from $3.5 billion in 2007 to $6.3 billion in 2012, a rise of 76 percent with a compound annual growth rate of 12 percent, according to JupiterResearch.

Certainly, LendingTree's marketing team "pulls levers at all hours of the day" to respond to market changes, Vail said. It's just that online marketers can change gears in paid search advertising with more ease and speed (without contract penalties by the search engines) than banner-ad campaigns, she said. Vail clarified that the company, which has lost about 60 percent of its staff since May, hasn't made any drastic cuts to its online ad spending.

Executives in the online performance advertising business are less clear about how much mortgage lenders have cut their spending. But at least one online ad executive said ad aggregators like LowerMyBills.com, which is owned by Experian, and NexTag aren't buying the same amount of inventory that they once did.

One shift is already happening. Aggregators are beginning to offset a downturn in the mortgage business by advertising education opportunities, as part of a philosophy that when the economy sours, people turn to education. LendingTree and NexTag are both moving into the education lead generation market, according to the source. NexTag and LowerMyBills.com didn't respond immediately to requests for comment.

Similarly, one ad company has noticed that auto lending advertising has picked up in recent months. The thinking behind that change is that people who were previously prepared to go into debt for a home--now without that option--are looking at car debt instead.

"Mortgage brokers are collapsing daily and the business is moving back to where it belongs, at the banks," said one insider who asked to remain anonymous. "How it will shake out for the overall business will be interesting; there isn't enough history to predict."

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Who cuts interest rates?
"The day after the federal government cut interest rates, LendingTree.com saw record traffic to its site for connecting borrowers and lenders."

It's a common misconception, but the federal government does not control interest rates. That power was given to the Federal Reserve, which is a private nongovernmental financial institution - a banking cartel, almost 100 years ago.
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