Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 10:34 am.

Apple: No. 1 at a lot of things, but no. 84 at buying online advertising

Apple ESPN adApple has done some of the best web ads I’ve ever seen, splashing its message across the WSJ, NYT, and ESPN homepages in glorious Flash animations. But it is not a particularly dominant online advertiser.

According to comScore, Apple was the no. 84 biggest online advertiser in Q2, as measured by U.S. display ad impressions. (About 1.3 billion impressions, roughly the same as a year ago.) AT&T was no. 1 again, with almost 24 billion impressions. Verizon, Sprint, Microsoft, Netflix, Google, and eBay were all in the top 15.

Now, a few caveats. First, Apple is probably more likely to buy ads around the holidays, as it tries to drive sales. (It ranked no. 46 during Q4 in 2010, according to comScore.) Second, it is probably paying much higher rates for its ads than, say, AT&T, so its actual spend ranking is probably higher. And third, some of AT&T’s ads (and maybe Verizon’s) might be for the iPhone, so Apple could be getting some “free” impressions there. And, as always, this is one data point from a single source, so don’t go crazy about it.

But: It’s interesting to note, I think, that the company that’s the top tablet maker, top online music store, and top U.S. corporation by market cap, isn’t a particularly dominant online ad buyer. Especially given how much it still spends on TV and in print.

Perhaps that’s the point, though: With Apple’s premium and special brand, if you can still reach people offline, in a glossier and more emotional fashion than online, surrounding more premium content, that’s mostly good enough.

(The lack of interest may also help explain why Apple has not been phenomenally successful with its own online ad network, the iAd.)

Below, a video of Apple’s iPod touch ad on ESPN.com, from last November — probably the coolest online ad I’ve ever seen. (And thanks to Diego Zambrano for the idea for this post.)

Related: How Apple can fix iAd