Rich Media: The Next Big Thing for Online Marketers

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You have all heard the escalating claims that Web advertising does not work. But disregarding the medium altogether is a knee-jerk reaction. This still-nascent industry has to take the time to find a formula that does work well on the Web.

An emerging element in the evolution of Web advertising is dynamic rich media. Rich media, combined with strategic placement and eye-catching creative, can deliver more value to advertisers by helping them achieve higher click-through rates.

Clients are no longer enticed by the glamour of the Web. They are looking for substance and an improved return on their investment.

Rather than being summarily dismissed, Web advertising needs to evolve, as all media - whether it is radio versus television or network against cable - have had to evolve. When radio stations were threatened as television lured clients and seduced them with cheaper advertising rates, they found creative ways to combat television and remain competitive. They improved production and offered more effective marketing solutions for the advertiser's dollar, without the panic of slashing rates.

I have dealt with clients who do not think that banner advertising is doing the job for them. When you look at current average click-through rates, which are running below 0.5 percent, according to NetRatings 2000, you understand why they think it is not enough of a response for the money spent. They are looking for creative solutions to drive traffic to sites, and it is my company's job to help them.

Web destinations that feature rich media advertising will draw advertisers looking for higher click-through rates - at a higher cost per thousand - and also generate greater stickiness and create a more interesting site for users. Rich media advertising, including Unicast's Superstitial format, full-motion A/V, showcases, mouseovers and other dynamic features, does not require a broadband connection to deliver broadband-quality, eye-grabbing graphics.

Our clients routinely ask for beyond-the-banner opportunities, and 2001 will be the year for rich media. Everything is coming into place - the technology is there, sites accept it, agencies understand it and clients ask for it. Banners may work from a value standpoint, but sites wishing to command a higher CPM will have to use rich media.

Sites such as GolfOnline, Social Net and Guinness World Records have used the Superstitial, a commercial-like advertising format that is discreetly and unobtrusively delivered.

PowerAdz and have run ads using Eyewonder's instant streaming technology, which delivers seamless audio/video without the use of a media player. That is a key feature of rich media formats that will achieve the broadest possible adoption. They launch automatically and do not require users to retrieve any special plug-ins.

To promote Guinness' Web debut to agencies, our company sent an HTML e-mail. People were greeted by a blinking eye that, when clicked on, opened to an ad picturing the World's Most Tattooed Man and encouraging advertising on Guinness. Rich media combined with attention-grabbing creative made this campaign a success with more than a 30 percent click-through rate, thus raising awareness of our client's site. and Guinness World Records are accepting multiple forms of some very cool technologies. Rich media ads are proving to have higher click-through rates for most advertisers. There is concern that the lack of standardization in rich media formats makes it hard for advertisers to determine whether the additional cost of the ads is justified.

The Internet Advertising Bureau is expected to adopt standards for rich media within perhaps the next six months. The organization recently announced a wave of voluntary guidelines for seven new ad units - two vertical units and five large rectangular units, any one of which could contain rich media advertising. The new voluntary guidelines for interactive marketing units join the recommended guidelines that the IAB already has in place for banners.

Those Web publishers that introduce the formats hand their marketers greater interactivity and expand the creativity in their online messaging. The IAB Ad Unit Task Force recommends that sites offering these new IMUs accept an initial load of 15K for IMU Skyscrapers and a 20K initial load for all other new IMU units, so as not to overly tax the patience of browsers who have to wait for the ads to load. This announcement by the IAB, along with its announcement that the group will consider other formats in the near future, paves the way for publishers and advertisers to consider innovative means of communicating with their audiences. Change will necessarily be part of this.

Publishers will need to redesign sites in order to accommodate these new sizes. In an ad-supported medium, it is necessary to listen to our clients and make changes to meet specific needs in a quickly changing environment. GolfOnline has taken this advice to heart and has adopted the use of a 250 x 250 flash-enabled ad unit surrounded by content. Although this is a common practice in print advertising, it is an approach not taken by many on the Web. Such high-level placement in the center of content makes it nearly impossible to ignore the advertiser's message.

When you hear the whispers that Web advertising does not work, shout back. It is not that it can't work; the industry has really just begun searching for the winning formula.

Continue to look for creative alternatives to the banner when putting together customized ad programs to fit your client's needs. Rich media, dynamic creative and innovative placement will help make more Web campaigns a success.

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