Three Things I Hate About the Web, Part I

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Just kidding! Now that I have your attention, the three things I love most about the Web, and will focus on in this and next month's columns, are that it's instant, interactive and international. We proudly proclaim this new medium unique from all that came before it. How? I would argue that these three "I's" cover the bases, and each is worth a closer look. I'll begin with instant.

On the Net, surfers want the latest. The site that is built, forgotten and sits unchanged for weeks or months fails to make the most of the medium and quickly taps out its visitor base. As with personal hygiene, freshness online is a powerful tool for relationship building. Frequent creative changes can boost click-though by big margins. Within a given banner campaign, "frequent" may mean as many as five ad changes per week.

Studies show and anecdotal evidence supports the contention that visitors' interest in a banner taps out after the third time the ad appears. We tried this daily schedule strategy for several clients who wanted to boost response rates. The click-through on average more than doubled. Change generated interest and substantial creative changes generated the greatest interest.

We think of it as mathematical advertising: By allowing our creative assets to be stretched, and dividing the extra expenses in production by the increase in traffic, we come up with a per-visitor cost that compares favorably with the client's previous costs.

We suspected we could push the leading edge of this idea even further by creating a sense of urgency with time-based offers. We geared advertising to weekend or weekday "attitudes." We also responded to current events. When Mike Tyson bit his opponent's ear in a fight, we had a new ad running within hours alluding to the incident.

Our relationship with the client was such that it responded very quickly to sign off on the new creative. We placed the ad in time to play off breaking news and spark the curiosity of people who hadn't gotten wind of it. The Internet is the only medium that allows for this kind of time-sensitive response.

Traditional media has yet to fully exploit an ongoing storyline (with the exception of the familiar televised coffee romance series). This is paradoxically simpler and more complex to effect in a banner campaign. (That doesn't sound so strange if you accept paradox as central to this ever-changing medium. Go ahead, accept it. There, doesn't that feel better?)

Repeating characters, serialized stories or variations on a theme can be implemented quickly. The audience is sporadic; visitors aren't visiting the "same bat time, same bat channel" every day or week, and need to understand the ad even if it's the only one they've seen in the series. On the other hand, you may inspire a terrific branding response among regular visitors.

The conundrum is worth exploring. More sophisticated variations on the "fresh creative" theme also tantalize. It's possible to target different creative to individual sites and even individual users through cookies, registration and other tools, depending on your level of technology.

The only catch to this approach is difficulty in trafficking this volume of new creative. Coordinated distribution of several banners to hundreds of sites (as may be the case in some run-of-site buys), and instructions for each, relies on human efficiency. Traffic and clients can also overwhelm ad servers, creating additional opportunities for error.

Eyescream's solution was to take over our own ad serving, filling what had been the site publisher's function of switching out our clients' creative on schedule. That way, we knew what was fresh and could relate rising response numbers to variations in the campaigns.

Third-party ad serving has its pitfalls: technical problems can slow loading rates, for example, and some publishers are unhappy if they can't see advertising content before it appears on a site. But the benefits often outweigh the possible problems. We make this decision on a case-by-case basis - a good standard for most Internet planning.

So, while the notion of "instant" can sound like a bad idea when it comes to coffee, for example, "instant" online means timely, responsive and effective. Try it today.

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