NEW YORK Advertisers often clamor to become part of consumer conversations. Web messaging service Meebo is offering them that opportunity by injecting ad messages into online chat.
With the release of a new instant messaging product for Web sites, Meebo has rolled out a new ad format that places ad messages between user responses. The text message can be clicked to activate a pop-up window with a multimedia commercial. Once a user engages with the ad, his action is noted within the chat. The idea is to then spur conversation among users about the brand.
In this way, Meebo hopes to solve the conundrum facing many social-networking sites and applications: find an ad unit that takes advantage of their social aspects, rather than rely on banners that appear on editorial sites.
"If they accept the invitation, the brand marketer can get three minutes with them," said Martin Green, vp of business at Meebo. In his estimation, the Web has mostly failed brand marketers by putting their ads off to the side where they are ignored. "We want to put the invitation to engage right in front of the user," he said.
Microsoft and the major record labels have signed on to use the Spark Ads, as Meebo calls them. Several publishers, including movie-networking site Flixter and gossip site PopSugar, have enrolled.
Spark Ads are already part of Meebo Rooms, a chat function the company made available to Web sites in January, and will be part of a Facebook-like chat service Meebo is releasing in the fall. The idea is to give site visitors the chance to chat with their friends who are on the site.
Meebo is offering another ad twist: It is only charging when a user engages with the message. In this way, it is following the lead of VideoEgg, which introduced a cost-per-engagement model for social-networking ads on Facebook in February. Like VideoEgg, Meebo will optimize the service by showing ads to users that will most likely click. Meebo is charging between 30-50 cents per engagement. It hasn't begun targeting yet, but it will be based on several factors, Green said, including age, sex and location.
In initial tests, Meebo boasts that the Spark Ads get 1 percent interaction rates, far above standard banner placements.
Efforts at injecting brands into conversations have failed previously, most notably with Facebook's Beacon program. The company backtracked on its initial plans for Beacon after complaints it intruded on user privacy.
Green does not believe users will find the ads intrusive, noting they are simple text links that can be ignored. Meebo plans to show ad messages every three to five minutes of chat sessions
"If we can figure out a way to get a brand message in there, finally a brand can enter a conversation," he said.