Advertisers Fight Banner Blindness With News Feeds

Advertisers are using new Web syndication technology to build ads that entice users to interact with real-time news feeds.

The BBC plans to break a U.S. ad campaign next week that streams BBC.com headlines in ad units. The RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news feeds are targeted to specific media placements. For example, ad units running on entertainment sites would carry BBC lifestyle story headlines, while those on NYTimes.com and WashingtonPost.com will include political and world news.

The campaign is a small example of a larger effort to make Internet advertising more inviting with useful bits of content tailored to specific interests, delivered wherever consumers are. News sites, which have been early adopters of Web feed syndication, have a ready supply of content to dynamically place in ad units, but other brands are joining in the hopes of warding off “banner blindness” and building deeper user engagement.

“Simply having a good message isn’t good enough,” said Alan Booth, controller of marketing at the BBC. “We feel they’re more likely to click through on headlines than if we just had a great slogan or piece of creative.”

For the six-month campaign, Omnicom Group’s Agency Republic, the BBC’s lead agency, is targeting “inquisitives,” the at-work audience that tends to dip in and out of news stories throughout the day. In one ad, tagged “news for a nonstop world,” a real-time feed of the latest BBCNews.com headlines orbits a globe. A second execution for lifestyle sites has headlines and the opening sentence of entertainment stories over a cup of steaming coffee.

Gavin Marshall, business director of the BBC account at London’s Agency Republic, said the campaign is “based on using news to sell the news. It made absolutely no sense not to use RSS feeds to deliver against that strategy.”

BBC is not alone in using RSS in its advertising. CNN put RSS in ad units to promote its free Web video service launch in June. Omnicom’s Agency.com piped in headlines of the most-watched videos on CNN.com.

Since Web feeds are targeted to specific interests, they open the possibility of turning ad units into branded-content syndication services, according to agency executives. Reuters has worked with NASDAQ and Coca-Cola for campaigns that package RSS feeds of its news stories into ad units tailored for those brands’ audiences. NASDAQ’s ads, for instance, carry finance and business news headlines.

In a six-month campaign that began last month, Reuters helped create banner ads for Diet Coke that display a real-time customized feed of “feel-good” stories selected by a Reuters editor. Clicking on the headlines takes users to an article page in a branded Diet Coke area on Reuters.com. They can also receive the RSS feed on their cell phones or add it to their feed reader, and the Diet Coke-branded feed has even run on the Reuters sign in Times Square.

In addition to the Reuters site, the Diet Coke ads have run on Yahoo!, CondéNet sites, Zagat.com and other lifestyle and entertainment sites. “We wanted it to really speak to what the Diet Coke brand was all about,” said Scott Witt, digital group director at Publicis’ Starcom MediaVest, “and we wanted it to be an RSS manifestation of the brand.”

Witt said some advertisers would create their own content for feeds, but many would leave it to partnerships. As a publisher of more than 30,000 articles per day, Reuters is looking to work with more advertisers for such programs, said Walker Jacobs, vp of media sales at Reuters.com. “Most marketers don’t have that luxury, he said. “Coca-Cola is in the business of creating beverages, not creating news.”