Online Ads Are Popping Up Everywhere.
First, we have to ask, "Would you be interested in finding out more about the new Lexus?" We have to ask because we're now selling demographically targeted, contextual ad placements in IQ News. No, no, we're just kidding, we're not doing that ... yet.
Of course, if this were a Web site, it might be different. Bored with banners, jaded by interstitials--and still hungry for cash--Web publishers, like Manhattan real estate moguls selling the air rights above their buildings, are looking for new kinds of real estate. True to form, a gaggle of spunky technology companies are enabling the industry's ad addiction.
In mid-1997, pop-up ads began, well, popping up, obscuring the screen until the (often-frustrated) Web site visitor clicked the window closed. GeoCities came under fire from members for placing them on members' free homepages, though the intrusion could be avoided by paying $4.95 per month. After initial complaint, the public seems to have thrown up its mouse-hands, because pop-ups are now springing up all over, including The New York Times' Web site and Netscape's Netcenter portal. In fact, says Tony Nethercutt, regional sales manager for DoubleClick, San Mateo, Calif., pop-up ads work. "We've found that a pop-up can increase click-through dramatically," he says.
For example, on one entertainment site represented by DoubleClick, a banner did .7 percent click-through, while the pop-up achieved 3 percent. "Same page, basically same creative," he says, explaining with a bit of understatement that, "It's an enhanced creative. It's something that jumps out at you a little bit."
Most innovative ad models are stealthier, beguiling the user into voluntarily downloading the ad-serving mechanism as part of a desired application. Alexa Internet, San Francisco, Calif., was an early player, launching its free navigational service in July of 1997. It's a tool bar with an ad window that starts up when a browser is launched, and, like a pushy party guest, lingers after the browser is closed, serving cached ads until you click it shut. Alexa pays for eyeball time by giving the user information about each site visited including "What's Related?," a list of the top 10 sites other registered Alexa users visited next.
One of Alexa's key sales points is that the company can place ads concurrent with sites that do not include advertising, such as government or academic sites. In effect, this allows the company to serve ads to formerly ad-free environments, though this only happens when the Alexa toolbar is on.
In August of this year, Alexa inked a deal with Netscape, Mountain View, Calif., to provide its What's Related? service for Netcenter Smart Browsing, a set of enhanced features for the Netscape 4.5 browser. In this case, the top two items on the list are paid placements. They're separated from the true Alexa links by a tasteful gray line.
On October 5 at Fall Internet World in New York, New York-based Robocast introduced an automated Net surfer called Roboplayer. The free application lets users create a bookmark-like list of links which is displayed on a special window adjacent to the browser window. On the top is a small banner ad. The product benefit is that the app will automatically sequence through the links in any order and at any speed set by the user. It's like watching a slide show where the user can stop, pause, rewind and skip.
The catch is, every fifth screen is an ad instead of a Web page. Yes, these ads can be as interactive as any other. And, advertisers will no doubt be happy the Roboplayer client application tracks the entire session and reports the user's activities back to the Robocast server.
Say you typed a keyword into a search engine and got back a results screen with 10 links. You could pull this list of links into the Roboplayer so that you could skim them as they played automatically instead of clicking one, reviewing the site, hitting the back button, clicking the next, etc. If you did this, you'd be trying to ignore ads served by Robocaster instead of those that would have been served by the search engine.
Yes, says Robocast CEO Damon Torres, in such a case his service would be indeed pulling eyeballs away from the search service. Possibly because he's a nice guy, possibly because he doesn't want to start a war, Torres says he wants to do deals with search engines to serve those ads for them. "We wrung our hands about that," he says, "to find a solution which might
Torres says that his company's full-page rich media ads can make up in quality what search engines would lose in quantity. To prove his sincerity, he's hired Kirk Woerner, former vice president of technology for ad network 24/7 Media, New York, as vice president of ad technology to make sure Robocast delivers.
The technology is also being sold as Robocaster to publishers who want to automate navigation through their sites. American Express Publishing Corporation, New York, has signed on to introduce Robocast-enabled versions of Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine, with a co-branded, downloadable Roboplayer. Nissan Motor Corps./Infiniti USA division, Gardena, Calif., and Crystal Cruises, Los Angeles, Calif., have developed rich media ads especially for the publications.
Also at Internet World, CyDoor Technologies, Tel Aviv, Israel, made the U.S. introduction of an application to sell ads on software that accesses the Internet. The company demonstrated the program running on Disconnector, a product from PixieSoft, Bney-Brak, Israel, which automatically closes the Internet connection so that users don't have to wait by the computer for long downloads to finish. Software developers who sign up with CyDoor receive a small monthly payment for every user. CyDoor sells and serves the ads, targeting them through IP address analysis, user profiles and analysis of the clickstream. When the user activates the program, ads are downloaded in the background and cached to run simultaneously with the program as long as it's open.
But it remains an open question as to whether the public will accept ever more encroaching ads. Says Doug Hansen, director of sales for Alexa Internet, the companies who offer the right things to users will succeed. "I think the ones that survive will be those which provide useful, relevant information or tools," he says. "If they're not related to what you're doing on the Internet, they distract from, rather than add to your experience."
When you think about all this new online ad real estate up for grabs, doesn't it make you want to enjoy a nice cold Coca-Cola?