IQ News: There’s Gold In Them Banners!

Online advertisers try to hit pay dirt with ‘rich advertising.’
You’re a creative director and you’ve just completed a banner campaign for your new client. It changes colors, it has a call to action and it features the brand’s logo. Now the question: Is it rich?
What? Haven’t heard the latest new media buzzword? We’re not talking rich as in filling like chocolate or wealthy like Bill Gates. We mean rich, as in streaming video, and 3-D or interactive elements.
In a medium where jargon is often as real as the technology itself, “rich advertising” is the term of the moment. Laugh if you must, but the increasing use of rich advertising means online marketing may finally become more interesting for the jaded Net surfers who feel they’ve seen at least 2,000 ad banners too many.
The era of the static banner ad is coming to a close because new technologies including plug-ins, Java script and streaming media are being accepted by more Web sites, and are increasingly easy for home users to download. The improved bells and whistles have come just in the nick of time. With the click-through rate of most ad banners mired in the single digits, there is increasing evidence that banners that display their interactivity even before they are clicked on have an edge. A recent study by Grey Interactive, New York, and ASI Interactive Research, found the click-through rate nearly doubles when an interactive element is added to a banner.
“It means that for banners to deliver better results, they need to have a playability feature that reaches out to the user and stimulates a response,” said Marianne Foley, senior vice president of ASI’s interactive division in a recent press release. “When you can double your click-through rate, you know the messages you’re trying to communicate will have greater recall.”
Therefore, agencies have been making their online advertising, if not themselves, rich. For example, Westport, Conn.-based Modem Media created a “Drag & Drop Magnetic Poetry Contest” aimed at college students for AT&T using Narrative’s Enliven, Java applets and 2-D interactive animation. For Reebok, it designed a banner where users try to steal a basketball from Philadelphia ’76er Allen Iverson using Geo Publishing’s Emblaze Creator, which supports streaming audio, video and animation.
“The progression was animated GIFs (which users couldn’t interact with) to HTML pull-downs,” says John Nardone, vice president of Modem’s media research services. The in-banner pull-down menus are now “pretty ubiquitous,” he observes.
“In general, I think the trend is [clients] are much more open to having the users kind of play with the advertising more,” says Audrey Fleisher, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising unit Darwin Digital, New York. “They ultimately discover the message on their own.”
But with the current emphasis on interactive animation and streaming video, today’s interactive advertising sometimes comes surprisingly close to that old standby: the TV commercial.
A recent banner campaign using streaming video from San Diego-based InterVU is a case in point. Advertising Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce, the banner, created by New Orleans-based Bent Media, implores, “Are you one of those weirdos who gets their thrills by torturing small insects? Cool, click here.”
Those who click can view video of the Tabasco TV ad, which originally ran on the Super Bowl, in which a man eats pizza slathered in the hot sauce, is bitten by a mosquito and smiles with satisfaction when the insect flies away and explodes in a ball of flames.
The trend toward interactivity is in turn making online advertising more personalized. Using agent technology, advertisers are becoming better at piquing consumers’ interest. For instance, Darwin Digital used it on a mini site for Hewlett-Packard which launched in February. The site features a talking wizard who appears to have a conversation with each visitor by integrating his or her name into the product pitch.
Says Fleisher, clients are calling for such ads, particularly because computer users tend to spend more time with them. “Overall, it feels like there’s an interest in trying to elevate the level of personalization. It’s much more of a dialogue and more time spent.”
But the movement toward rich advertising shouldn’t be misconstrued as another example of bored advertisers and consumers hankering to move on to the next flash-in-the-pan trend. What is making it all possible is the union between improved technology and smaller code on the design side and the ability for home PCs to accept such rich files more easily.
But, as agencies are discovering, it isn’t easy being rich. Therefore, they are relying on technology companies to work behind the scenes to actually deliver rich banners. Last week, InterVU and Louisville, Colo.-based MatchLogic, an ad management service, released a joint venture, TrueVU, that enables sites, which sometimes have difficulty handling dense computer files, to do so.
According to Allie Shaw, director of marketing at InterVU, “[Agencies] don’t know how to do this. They don’t want to know how to do this. The issue that they face is what happens when they want to create something and it ends up being, 30, 40, even 50K? The site has to accept it.”
MatchLogic gets the sites integrated and enabled so they can accept rich media from the InterVU server. Sites are given a 2K file with one line of code, which links to the InterVU network and streams the video or other feature into the banner. Because the streaming video doesn’t reside on the publisher’s Web site, InterVU is able to keep the banner from gumming up the Web works.
“Rich media has no chance of slowing down the Web site,” Shaw said. InterVU won’t provide content to a site unless the download time is less than 10 seconds over a 28.8 modem.
Suzanne Brisendine, director of PC advertising programs for Intel, a co-sponsor of the Grey study, says advertisers should scale ads to accommodate users’ systems, instead of creating a simple GIF banner assuming they won’t have the plug-ins. “Start with a rich version–streaming media or Java–and then create a flatter version,” she says, adding that between 70 and 80 percent of users are Java enabled. “We want every user to get the best experience possible.”
Now that’s rich.