Portals Getting Creative With New Ad Units to Lure Traffic

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Add two more nails to the coffin of free Internet services supported by non-intrusive advertising.


Salon.com next month will begin offering Salon Premium, an advertising-free online service, as an alternative to the free online newspaper, it announced last week. The premium service will cost $30 for an annual subscription.


For readers unwilling to fork over $30 for Salon Premium, Salon.com will serve to its pages the larger ad units recently approved by the Internet Advertising Bureau.


"Like many Web sites, we have tried to support our business primarily through advertising revenue ... but this revenue has fallen short of covering our costs. And this year, Internet advertising dollars are in even shorter supply," Salon.com editor David Talbot wrote in a letter to readers.


Meanwhile, Ask Jeeves Web Properties, a division of Ask Jeeves Inc., Emeryville, CA, debuted four new ad units on March 19 that it hopes will make its services more attractive to traditional brand advertisers and will help it achieve profitability in fourth quarter 2001.


This follows similar announcements that CNET, New York Times Digital and Excite@Home will offer larger banner ad units. Excite@Home said it is incorporating the new units into its targeting and tracking services and is packaging them into custom programs for clients.


The four ad units that Ask Jeeves introduced include Branded Response, available on its Ask.com reply page; Branded Animation, which features multimedia capabilities and is available on the company's home page; interstitials, which are triggered by keywords; and DirectLinx, which is text-based advertising. Ask Jeeves said that for advertisers looking to build brand awareness, its new ad products offer highly targeted opportunities to drive traffic and increase transactions on the Web.


Peter Hershberg, Ask Jeeves' vice president of targeting and acquisition, hopes the new units help Ask Jeeves lessen its dependence on dot-com companies, which account for about 60 percent of the company's business.


"We're shifting our emphasis from dot-coms to traditional branding companies," he said. "We won't turn our back on the dot-coms, but we'll shy away from doing business with the ones that can't pay their bills."


Hershberg said the company has signed 15 advertisers, including Honda, for the new products. Campaigns incorporating the new ad units should roll out in a few weeks.


"Ask.com users view the Internet as a great tool and resource for finding answers to questions," said Doug Hoffman, Honda's national advertising manager. "Becoming part of the answer that users are seeking is a highly effective way to deliver a message."


Hershberg said the Branded Response units feature relevant content about an advertiser's brand that is available to the user when a related question is asked. The content can appear in a question-and-answer format or as a hint or fact presented in paragraph form. Branded Response is centered on the Ask Jeeves reply page and features an advertiser logo prominently placed.


"We wanted to create something that is more advertorial than advertising," Hershberg said. "So we created a placement to connect ads to a question a person is asking."


Sometime next month, Ask Jeeves plans to roll out Branded Animation, a multimedia version of its Branded Response unit. It offers advertisers sponsorship opportunities on the Ask.com home page.


"We will run no more than two campaigns a month for a total of three or four days each," Hershberg said. "Otherwise, it can lose a lot of its value if it is used too much. We envision this as part of a larger ad campaign for advertisers."


Ask Jeeves also is making interstitials available. The interstitials will open behind a Web browser and are triggered by keywords or particular content. The new browser window consists of an advertiser's page or a customized Web area. These, too, will be limited to two per day per user.


The DirectLinx units feature targeted, text-based, sponsored placements designed to look more like an answer than an ad, Hershberg said. They have a capacity for up to 30 words or 150 characters and can be optimized on the fly. The DirectLinx ads are being served by L90 Inc., he said.


"We're open to flexible pricing on these," he said. "We'll accept them on a CPM, CPC or CPA basis."


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