Excite@Home Seeks to Boost Rich Media With Simpler Ads

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Facing an online marketing community that has not broadly accepted rich media advertising, Web portal and Internet access provider Excite@Home today is expected to unveil cheaper banner ad technology that it hopes marketers will find easier to use than existing products.

Rich media banners -- which feature sound or transactional capabilities or can react to a mouse arrow without a click -- have not taken off as industry watchers had expected. Forrester Research, for example, once predicted rich media would account for 20 percent of online banner ads by the end of 1999 -- a forecast that proved to be wildly optimistic.

"The reality is that GIFs dominate the market. That's where all the dollars are being spent," said Scott Kliger, chief technology officer at Excite@Home's Enliven unit, the No. 1 player in the rich media space.

Beginning at the @d-tech online advertising conference this week, Enliven is going to try to change all that. The Waltham, MA-based company plans to debut Enliven Effect, which it's positioning as simpler rich media technology compared to the standard GIF banners that hold more than 95 percent of the market.

GIF banners are disliked by many marketers who find their functionality, measurement and real-dollar results lacking. Rich media ads have generally proven more effective at enticing consumer interaction; nevertheless, they are more expensive and require more time and effort than GIFs. The rich media ROI numbers don't add up for some marketers.

So Enliven plans to charge less than half the price for Effect rich media than for its existing products. Effect technology will be available for $2 per thousand impressions, plus a one-time set-up fee of roughly $2,000. The latter charge is comparable to the cost of building a GIF banner, Kliger said. Enliven's existing ads cost $5 per thousand impressions, plus about $5,000 for creative and consulting work.

Marketers will be able to build Effect banners in a couple of hours and have them live in a couple of days. Kliger said the ads have narrower capabilities than Enliven's other rich media products but feature the most popular functions, including the ability to expand, capture consumer e-mail addresses and print coupons or product specifications within the ad.

Visitors to the Enliven site can peruse examples of the banners' various functions through a template-like system, then select what they want for their ads. Marketers also will get an idea of what kinds of creative work they should make to plug into the Effect banners.

The Effect ads can run anywhere on the Net where Enliven's other banners run, Kliger said.

Excite@Home isn't the first company to try making rich media easier to use. Microsoft Corp. began offering free rich media code through its MSN network last year. The company said at the time it wanted to standardize the rich media that runs across MSN.

An early proponent of Excite@Home's Effect push is computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co. The Palo Alto, CA, company, which dominates the printer market, has agreed to pay $7,500 in creative and serving fees to the first 25 customers that sign up to use Enliven Effect's print-from-the-banner capability.

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