NEW YORK This holiday season Polaroid is eschewing traditional advertising in favor of retail promotions and a presence on a relatively new and growing online ad vehicle, instant messaging.
Determined to attract teens and hunting for a low-risk ROI, Waltham, Mass.-based Polaroid enlisted AOL's Instant Messenger service. "Seventy-two percent of teens exchange IMs every day," said Peter Panagopoulos, senior marketing manager of advertising at Polaroid.
The numbers get even better. In September, nearly 64 million Americans used an IM application from AOL, MSN or Yahoo!, per comScore Media Metrix in Reston, Va. And many of those users have IM up on their computer screen for a substantial chunk of time. Yahoo! said users spend about 57 minutes a day on its IM service, Yahoo! Messenger.
Just a few years ago, marketers seemed unaware of the IM platform's reach and potential for interactivity. That's changing. Yahoo! now has more than 30 "IMVironments," essentially branded mini-sites where users can interact with a product while chatting with friends or co-workers.
Yahoo!, for instance, created an IMVironment for GMC and Major League Baseball that gave users real-time updates of games. Other recent Yahoo! Messenger advertisers include Kraft, Dentyne, Disney's The Incredibles and Kellogg's Pop-Tarts.
The IM exec's pitch is that this type of advertising goes way beyond banner ads or broadcast TV spots.
"This is a heightened level of interaction and awareness," said Frazier Miller, Yahoo! Messenger director of product management. "In terms of interactivity, when you compare IM to watching TV or driving past a billboard, it's at the other end of the scale, where people are engaging in something that they like to do while they've got these brand images around them."
That's not to say that banners and pop-ups don't play a part in IM. While AOL's AIM has ads similar to Yahoo!'s IMVironments called Expressions, it also offers pop-unders, banner ads and videos. The videos are particularly popular with movie studios, which use them to hype their upcoming releases.
But AOL treads lightly with such ads, allowing them to appear just a few times daily, said Ron Bernstein, AOL Web properties vp of ad sales. "Our most important rule is to respect the user. We've set limits so that they won't be bludgeoned to death by advertising."
AIM, which counts Ford, Nike and M&Ms as recent advertisers, is developing new forms of IM ads, including one launched this month called Buddy List Out of Banner.
The ad begins as a regular banner, but allows click-able creative to fly out of the ad and float around the page. Universal Studios is using the Out of Banner to tout the DVD release of the movie Thunderbirds. It's also an ad form that's natural for Detroit, said Bernstein, who hopes to double AOL's IM ad business by next year and has visions of deep-pocketed automotive brands racing around AIM pages.