NYTimes.com Debuts Session-Based Ad-Buy Model

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New York Times Digital, the Internet division of The New York Times Co., has introduced a new online advertising model that moves the basic ad-buy measure from impression to session.


Under this model, called Surround Sessions, sequential advertisements from a single advertiser can follow a user through his session on www.nytimes.com. This way, a multi-tiered message can run across a variety of Web pages aimed at a targeted audience.


Ads from American Airlines ran Nov. 9. Porsche Cars North America Inc., Nexium and E*Trade Center -- New York are scheduled to run this week.


"The main challenge is that sites like NYTimes.com or just [other] publishers aren't accurately leveraged by an impression model," said Craig Calder, vice president of marketing at New York Times Digital.


A click model ignores quality audience, a clutter-free environment or a strong brand offline and online, he said. This model measures online ads with the same yardstick as television, radio and print advertising.


The Times' ad model uses standard Interactive Advertising Bureau formats with current ad-serving technology. Its working is simple.


Once a user logs on to, say, the technology section of NYTimes.com, he sees top and bottom 468-by-60 banners and a right skyscraper 140-by-800 banner.


When the user visits a different page, a large rich media 336-by-280 ad unit launches. Messaging is consistent with the prior pages. The session continues this way until the user signs off NYTimes.com. So, a single advertiser's message runs across the entire user session.


"We're starting by selling packages of 75,000 sessions that we're equating with approximately 375,000 pages," Calder said, "and each of those page impressions can contain up to three ads from the same advertiser. Or if it was a page that had a large rich media ad, it would be one ad."


Executives at NYTimes.com are debating the length of a session for this ad model.


"We're still looking at some options," Calder said. "We have the ability to keep a session for 24 hours. We're looking at the possibility of continuing that session till you reach five page views, so that might be 24 hours."


An average NYTimes.com user sees seven to 10 pages each session, Calder said. The average length of a session per user on the site is about four minutes. According to Media Metrix's data for September, NYTimes.com recorded 26.8 minutes per visitor.


The early phase of Surround Sessions will offer contextual targeting. In the next few months, the Times will use its NYTimes.com database for advertisers to target by demographics and user interests.


As a bonus, the Times will give clients the benefit of a Dynamic Logic study to measure the campaign's effectiveness in terms of purchase intent, message recall and brand awareness and favor.


Participating under the Surround Sessions model does not require separate software or hardware. But it does address an issue that has troubled ad agencies.


"What we heard from media buyers is that they were frustrated by the fact that online advertising and traditional advertising isn't an apples-to-apples comparison in doing media plans," Calder said.


Broadcast and print ads typically are measured by reach, duration and frequency, he said. But the online medium has no set standard. Online ads can be measured by clicks, impressions, awareness, conversions and acquisitions.


"So, it was very difficult to fit an online buy into a traditional media plan, and one of the main reasons is that it was very difficult to compare a 30-second spot to a single banner," he said. "The feedback we're getting from media buyers [on Surround Sessions] is that it's a much closer comparison when you have an online session compared to a 30-second spot."


NYTimes.com is not the first to dabble with sequential online advertising. Yahoo and Terra Lycos offer versions. In fact, the Times is sharing its model with members of the Online Publishers Association.


"Through the OPA, we shared the concept with other newspapers and news sites, because it's in our best interests not to have this proprietary to The New York Times but rather to be an industry standard," Calder said. "Because, to really make it work, we have to have buy-in from advertisers, and they're going to have to re-purpose their advertising on various sites. This really changes the way you think about creative."


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