MSNBC.com Trans-Ads: Fad or the Future?

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Internet advertisers can't agree on whether MSNBC.com's unusual "trans-ads" are a wave of the future or a relapse to an older school of interruption marketing. However, they do concur that the seven-second spots work even if they probably annoy online viewers.


Since last year, MSNBC.com has been selling ad space for the short transition between its home page and its specialty sections -- which feature news in areas such as sports, health and travel.


More than half of the site's sections have a trans-ad. When viewers link to one of those sections, they have three options. They can look at a large standstill ad for seven seconds before it disappears and the section comes into view; they can go to the advertiser's site by clicking on the ad; or they can bypass the ad immediately by clicking through with their mouse.


Advertisers using the ads at MSNBC.com said the spots have been among their most successful campaigns. However, none of the firms would release conversion rates or sales figures that would support their claims.


Drugstore.com, Bellevue, WA, has used the advertisements at the health section of MSNBC.com since October. Jackie Erickson, marketing manager at the Web site, said trans-ads have proven to be more successful for her company than any other type of Internet ads.


Erickson said the size of the ads allows her firm to show its audience more company or product detail. She added that MSNBC.com's specialty channels allow her online pharmacy to target a specific audience that is hard to reach with banner or mid-page ads.


However, the future of trans-ads is questionable, Erickson said.


"There probably won't be a significant proliferation of the interruption-style ads," she said. "Internet consumers would get too annoyed if they were used all over the place."


Stephen Tornquist, director of marketing at Internet advertising agency Bluestreak.com, Newport, RI, disagreed. He said interruption tactics similar to MSNBC.com's trans-ads will become increasingly prevalent in online marketing.


"So far, we have seen Internet advertisers value the idea of letting the viewer feel in control of the online experience," he said. "But it would surprise me -- knowing the history of interruption advertising in television and radio, for instance -- if we didn't see more and more ads that use these interruption-style techniques."


Peggy White, advertising sales manager at MSNBC.com, said every company that has used trans-ads at the Web site has requested to run more of the spots. She added that only the Web site's highest-spending clients -- all with accounts exceeding $100,000 -- have used trans-ads so far.


White admitted that the ads may annoy some Internet viewers, but, she said, "once they get used to the system, it takes all but a second to bypass the ad. And we have repeat customers, so they must be working."


Tornquist said past marketing trends suggested that it didn't matter whether or not people liked trans-ads. If marketers get results, he said, consumers will get used to interruption marketing on the Web.


"A lot of people are going to view them as unduly intrusive," he said. "But we as consumers get used to this kind of stuff. Right now, I'm more upset about e-mail spamming than I am about a telemarketer calling me up in the middle of dinner. Why? Because I've gotten used to it."
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