The increased use of video and animation technologies is causing some advertisers to reconsider the purpose of their banner ads—from simply a way to draw users to their Web sites to a delivery method for rich branding experiences and a way to collect customer information.
This is a shift from advertisers' previous Web strategies, which often treated banner ads as miniature billboards with "click here" added to lure users to Internet sites. With DoubleClick pegging banner ad click-through rates well below 1 percent, however, advertisers are turning their Web ad units into mini-Web sites, allowing Internet users to watch video clips, take quizzes and request more information—all without going to the advertiser's Web site.
In a new campaign running this summer for DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Charger, Omnicom's Organic decided to shift the goal of some ads on lifestyle sites, such as StuffMag.com and UGO.com, away from funneling users to the Charger Web site. Instead, Organic built the ads into their own brand expressions that allow users to expand the banner to see an animation sequence featuring the Charger. Rather than entice viewers to click to price a car or request a test drive, like ad placements on car sites, the ads sought to engage users with the Charger brand within the ad-unit environment, said Colleen DeCourcy, Organic's chief creative officer.
"The question we started to ask ourselves was, when we looked at the amount of buying Daimler was doing, could we not push our favorite sites to allow us to put more content in an ad unit?" she said. "Does it really matter if we drive everybody to [the Charger Web site]?"
Consumers' increased adoption of broadband connections and the development of technology from rich-media companies such as Eyeblaster, Klipmart and PointRoll have made such campaigns more common. Eyeblaster is serving more than double the number of ads it did last year. Klipmart said it is showing four times as many video ads compared to a year ago. PointRoll, which Gannett purchased for $100 million in June, reported it delivered 11 billion rich-media ads this year through July, versus 10 billion for all of 2004. According to eMarketer, rich-media advertising spending will increase 35 percent this year to surpass $1 billion.
Movie studios and TV networks were early champions of this approach, letting users watch previews from the ad unit, rather than requiring them to click through to a Web site.
In a push for the movie Sky High, Disney is running banner ads with the trailer in the unit, which can be expanded to show character profiles and answer poll questions. In the spring, the studio promoted The Pacifier with Vin Diesel introducing the video ad and directing users to interactive options within the unit. A&E is using banners on sites like TVGuide.com to advertise Caesars 24/7, with in-unit video, quizzes, character information and e-mail and text-message reminders of show times.
Placing rich-media ads on Web sites can cost six times as much as static ads, agency executives said, and they require much more effort to build. "They're expensive units," said Doug McFarland, general manager of Eyeblaster, "but we have had nothing but raves from people who have gone through the time and effort."
The complexity of building the ads has led Eyeblaster, Klipmart and PointRoll to set up creative units to either convert elements into rich-media units or build them entirely. Klipmart managing director Paul Olliver said his company is now creating 70 percent of the ads it runs for clients, which include all 14 major movie studios.
Interscope Records had Klipmart build rich-media banner ads for The Black Eyed Peas' Monkey Business release in July. The ad allows users to watch a video of the single "Don't Phunk With My Heart" and download songs. "We have the expertise," said Olliver. "We can really max out the capacity of the technology."
The payoff, McFarland said, is the "gee-whiz factor" and high interaction rates. Between 8 percent and 10 percent of users interact with Eyeblaster ads, he said. Movie trailers in ad units garner interaction rates of about 7.5 percent, according to Olliver.
"We are seeing more and more clients wanting the ad unit to be a micro-site in itself," he said, since they "marry the branding elements of TV with the interactivity of the Internet."
Entertainment campaigns are being joined by lead-generation pushes. DirectTV ran an expandable banner ad that let users customize a service package based on their location and the size of their home, and then receive it in an e-mail. Pepsi recently let users register for free-sample coupons from an ad unit for its Propel drink.
Pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and AstraZeneca, are running in-unit coupon ads that use the units' capacities to satisfy federal risk-disclosure rules. "The expandable format allows them to meet those requirements without breaking the integrity of their creative," said Martin Betoni, art director at PointRoll.
The reinvigoration of banner ads could lead to a creative renaissance on the Web, Organic's Colleen DeCourcy said, in a medium that has been dominated by direct-response tactics. For too long, she said, ad-unit creative has been treated as an afterthought, as the lion's share of creative budgets has gone to building a Web site. "You're going to see that change," she predicted.
Any increased quality of Internet creative is long overdue, said David Hallerman, an industry analyst with eMarketer. "The creative in most online advertising is pathetic when you compare it to the rich appeal on TV, radio or magazines," he said. "That's been the weakest point of online advertising."