Rich Media Gets Richer: Merchandising Via Online Advertising

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In the brief history of the commercial Internet, retailers ran merchandising on their Web sites and then used advertising for promotions, branding or viral marketing. With rich media, a broad term that includes animated and video ads, merchandising can be done within the ads themselves, thus redefining the possibilities for both the advertisers and the Web site.


Rich media offers many opportunities to engage consumers, with television-quality video and countless options for consumer control and interaction. Yet, even as the online experience for consumers becomes more immersive, consumers want control. In light of the continued push and pull between consumers and advertisers, advertising and content are increasingly intertwined.


Online advertising traditionally pulled consumers into a marketer's site. By merchandising within rich media ads, advertisers can push parts of the site out to people within the ads themselves.


Hooks for Retailers


What would drive this shift of retailers adopting rich media and merchandising within online advertising?


First, gaining access to a larger audience. Not everyone is going to an advertiser's site or searching for a particular business or product. Rich media merchandising can bring an advertiser's products to targeted consumers at every top Web publisher, whether the site focuses on news, gaming, sports, health, entertainment or other topics. With product demonstrations built into the ad itself, the consumer can spend time interacting with the brands while remaining on the page on which the ad appears. That makes the ad less intrusive and more welcoming. And, of course, the consumer has the option of clicking the ad and visiting the Web site for more information.


Alternatively, the ad also can feature a store locator, newsletter signup form or information request form to further cement the lead. The consumer can even make a purchase within the ad.


You can target with interactive advertising like no other medium, building merchandising into online ads, thus bringing deep content from your sites to consumers via any site you care to target.


Second, reduce the sales cycle. See the ad, buy the product: It's that simple. Through every step of the online retailing process, Web analytics shows the pages where you lose consumers. It's never a perfectly smooth migration for the consumer to move from the home page of a Web site to completing a transaction. Merchandising within the ads can diminish some of the friction by keeping the entire experience within a single ad window so the consumer never has to go anywhere.


Third, push buried products. If a marketer has a robust database in place, ads can feature products not selling through the Web site that can't be readily featured or that are good for a specific audience.


For instance, a health and beauty retailer can target different products on iVillage rather than on MensHealth.com. A consumer electronics retailer can use high-end merchandising on Web sites for The New Yorker and Cigar Aficionado magazines while selling lower-end pop culture crazes on Artistdirect and CosmoGirl.


Much of this ties back into other textbook examples of the 80/20 rule: 20 percent of products account for 80 percent of sales, or, more broadly, most sales come from a small percentage of products. If done right with enough sophistication on the back end, merchandising with rich media advertising can monetize the long tail - those masses of products that are bought by a only select few. "Tell a friend" functionality built into the ad can get more mileage out of the products showcased.


Fourth, retrain advertising-averse consumers. While consumers are inundated with ads, people are content-hungry, consuming every type of media at a frenzied pace. Putting content in the ads gives consumers what they want, and it gives the ad a fighting chance to do its job. It's this type of marketing that blurs the line among advertising, merchandising and sales channels.


There are obstacles to overcome before every ad includes sophisticated data collection and merchandising. Advertisers, agencies and technology companies must grapple with security and privacy issues, inventory management decisions and measurement definitions. As challenging as such issues may be, dealing with them head on will result in stronger marketing and a more fulfilling customer experience. Merchandising within rich media advertising is a vehicle that can work for direct marketing, branding, consumer research and viral marketing. The potential is limitless, and the technology is here.


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