Online advertising has suffered less during the recession than traditional ad products, but many advertisers still think online ad inventory falls short in one key area: brand building.

And while print ads may never perform as well as they once did, television advertising has been surprisingly buoyant as digital has grown. In fact, The Economist recently called television “The Great Survivor.” As traditional media formats struggle to stay afloat, digital video is seen by many as a strong way to connect with consumers, and video ads are popping up online with increasing frequency. But can video save display ads from obscurity and present the key to brand building online? That’s not clear yet.

Television excels at high impact, emotional imagery, while online ads can be targeted down to the smallest detail. Successfully combining those two elements just might provide the holy grail of online brand advertising. That’s why display ad units are increasingly being loaded with video placements online.

This week, Firefly Video launched a platform to bring more video advertising to display inventory online. The product targets audiences and delivers video that expands when web surfers roll over it. It’s also loaded with interactive features and is one of many products trying to help consumers identify with brands online. The company held a roundtable in New York that quickly became a discussion of how the best elements of television ads can translate online. 

Online presents many promising deliverables for advertisers — namely it is measurable and targetable in ways that traditional media cannot achieve. But display has gotten a bad rap. Says Donovan Andrews, Firefly’s president:

“To date, display has not been noted for its ability to create really compelling creative.”

Meanwhile, despite rumors of television’s demise, it looks as though digital — and social — elements online have helped keep the medium alive.

According to Sean Finnegan, president of Starcom Mediavest:

“TV is alive and well. It’s growing, and its actually the benefactor of digital.”

That’s because online audiences are helping to grow the audience for live television content. But the two media don’t always work in tandem. Says Finnegan:

“The more we start to adopt more futures based measurement and approach, the more dollars will flow.”

But unlike what many digital proponents have been saying for the past few years, moving into digital doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the television. Dilip DaSilva, CEO of Exponential Inc., puts it this way:

“I think TV is getting stronger, and technology will make it even stronger. We all want engaging ads. But we need better ways for brands to connect with users. Now we have great ways for targeting and reaching users, but banners do not connect.”

Is the solution video advertising? If the video is engaging enough for consumers to click on it, then yes, it will provide the best elements of TV ads with the audience targeting and tracking potential of online.

But consumers are increasingly adept at ignoring advertising. If they aren’t fast forwarding through commercials, or muting an online video ad, they’re simply scrolling past much ad content online.

And there’s also the nuisance factor. Many online video ads currently auto-play, which is problematic. That can be fixed. Many new products try to attract attention without starting automatic audio play. But unless the new spate of video ads actually connect with consumers, they will be just as easy to ignore as the display ads that everyone’s been trying so hard to improve.

Image: Firefly