Seminar Touts Rich Media's Arrival in Internet Marketing

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Excite@home, a cable broadband Internet service provider based in Redwood City, CA, held a seminar in New York last month focusing on direct-response marketing and ways to use interactive advertisements on the Web. One of the hottest types of interactive ads discussed was a new style of banner ad that uses rich media and integrate audio, video, still images and animation.

These ads, which Excite@home calls "click within ads," are designed to keep users at the site where the banner is located rather than take them to a different site. All information about the Web surfer is gathered within the banner ad.

Showtime, the cable movie channel, has begun running a rich media ad on Excite@home's game channel. In addition to providing a schedule of programming, the ad allows cable subscribers to order the channel. It contains streaming video of Showtime features.

"Technologists are eking out ways to get better responses to ads," said Susan Bratton, vice president of market development for Excite@home. "This ad brings the site to the consumer rather than the consumer to the site. This is the true effect of Web advertising. A tracking program is imbedded in the ad so advertisers know how far people are going into the sites."

Showtime is testing the ad to determine the effectiveness of broadband advertising. The ad is scheduled to run through the end in September.

"We are still putting the lion's share of our advertising budget into off-line and narrowband advertising," said Rick King, vice president of marketing and promotion for Showtime. "Broadband will be getting bigger in the next couple of years. It is a good medium to advertise in because you can deliver television-like exposure to people while measuring the click-through rate. It is a very attractive way of getting their business."

According to company executives, rich media ads have an interaction rate as high as 35 to 40 percent.

"With interaction you get the call to action," said Jaimie Bertasi, director of sales for Enliven, which is the advertising division of Excite@home. "People are busy on the Web, so if you put a compelling offer in front of the right person, you will get them to purchase. Agencies need results, advertisers need improved return on investment, and publishers need advertisers. Current Internet campaigns cannot be as compelling as a rich-media ad."

3M, for example, features a game in one banner where users shoot targets and icons as they appear in the banner. After the game, there is an area where you can read testimonials about the company's mouse pads and other equipment. Ralston Purina Inc., promotes its Whisker Lickins cat treats with rich media. Users who smack five mice which stick their heads out of holes in a piece of cheese receive a free product sample.

"Games draw people into the ad and secure transactions," said John Rosweck, East Coast manager for Excite@home. "This type of format has a strong call to action which entices interaction by the consumer. These types of campaigns provide everybody with instant gratification. Companies have to give a little to get a little."

According to an Excite@home survey, three out of five people who had a single exposure to a broadband ad felt better about the company in the advertisement. The company also found that 70 percent found broadband advertisements to be better or equal to television ads.

"Consumers are not interested in the sexy stuff," said Bratton. "Rich media provides a holistic viewpoint to advertising that current banner ads don't have."

According to Jupiter Communications, New York, 20 percent of all online ads will be in rich media by the end of this year. Excite@home expects $11.5 billion to be spent on Internet media placement by 2003.

"Banners are not dead, they are evolving," said Drew Ianni, senior analyst for Jupiter Communications. "Broadband is poised to capture a large share of this $11.5 billion. There is a ways to go yet, there is no doubt about that, but rich media does have its advantages."

Jupiter also surveyed Web users on what is lacking in standard banner ads. Of 2,000 people surveyed, 71.4 percent said ads needed to be more informative and 33 percent said they needed to be more creative. Jupiter predicts that by 2002, 25 percent of Internet users will have broadband access to the Web.

"This is in line with what people are using the Internet for," Ianni said. "It is a utility medium and not an entertainment medium. Digital television will be the next-generation entertainment medium."

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