Pixel Ads: Fad or New Channel?

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Since DM News covered one of the first pixel advertising sites, PixelBay.org, in September, a host of similar sites sporting the miniature ads has sprung up. Now, 300 pixel ad sites are on the Web, quickly put up by a host of individuals and companies including Web marketing firms seeking a unique ad medium.

Recent upstarts include ShowPixels.com, which features an affiliate program to give 50 percent of ad sales back to the referring Web site; eBaypixelpage.com, touted as an "eBay search engine alternative" to help users find products on eBay; and MoneyPantsDreamPage.com, an offshoot of a financial Web site for women.

Most of the sites sell ads for $1 a pixel, with a minimum purchase. At PixelBay, advertisers must buy at least 100 pixels, and the ad stays on the Web site for five years from the purchase date. Some of the sites displaying these tiny ads are making money off them, at least for now. Milliondollarhomepage.com, the first pixel ad site created by a British student, has sold $500,000 worth of ads in two months, according to reports.

"Pixel-based advertising had opened up a lot of people's minds to going away from traditional advertising. Banner ads are not doing that well," said Bruce Prokopets, promotions director at In Touch Media Group, Clearwater, FL, which operates PixelBay.org.

The company expected to have 300 advertisers on board by early November, driving traffic to the site with contests and press releases.

However, consultants and even some of the sites themselves don't think the pixel ad trend will last.

"Things that have no benefit to the consumer don't last very long. They can survive on curiosity and novelty for only so long," said Jim Nail, analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

"I think it was a novelty, a total flash in the pan," said Gary Stein, senior analyst at JupiterResearch, a division of JupiterMedia Corp., Darien, CT.

"Micro-ad/pixel-based advertising is not a long-term advertising vehicle," said Mike Khristo of Brutal Brainpower LLC, a Web development and marketing firm that launched ShowPixels.com. "All of the pixel sites guarantee X years of continued advertising, [and] some will not adhere to that policy." Even if the companies keep the sites up for five years or more, "it doesn't matter, because they will not be able to sustain the amount of traffic to make it worthwhile."

The ability to drive traffic regularly to these sites is a big concern of industry observers.

"You can stick a billboard in the middle of a desert, but if you don't have anyone looking at it, what good is it?" asked Komal Bhojwani, CEO of MoneyPants.com, which recently launched pixel ad site MoneyPantsDreamPage.com.

MoneyPantsDreamPage differs from other pixel ad sites because it is linked to an established Web site, MoneyPants.com, and offers ads for female entrepreneurs, Bhojwani said. MoneyPants.com started the pixel ad site in an effort to raise $1 million in capital to grow the company.

"You're buying a pixel because you're tapping into something bigger than, 'Oh, I'm advertising on the Internet.' We are linked to an ongoing business," Bhojwani said.

Still, some hope the trend will last. With so many pixel sites, Prokopets predicts that a company will create a publisher network for pixel ad sites, similar to Web publisher networks such as Commission Junction, an affiliate marketing network.

Sites that offer something different or continually drive traffic may have more long-term success. Some non-pixel ad sites are adding "banner ad sized" pixel advertising, selling only 500 to 1,000 pixels in a banner ad space to "increase their advertising dollars exponentially," Prokopets said.

ShowPixels.com differentiates its site by using it for ad market research.

"We are analyzing the trends and behavior of users that visit, attempt to purchase and do purchase, advertising space on the site," Khristo said.

ShowPixels also is the first to include an affiliate program, offering 50 percent of sales back to referring Webmasters, according to Khristo.

Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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