Rich Media to 'Take Over' Where Banners Leave Off

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Advertisers that want to make an impression are abandoning the banner ad in favor of rich media technologies that offer in-your-face, hard-to-ignore ad units.


A number of companies have developed animated "takeover" ads -- online ads that take over a Web page for a few seconds to deliver their message -- that are increasingly being used by companies aiming to supercharge their branding efforts online.


On May 4, Ford Motor Co. took over Yahoo Inc.'s portal for the day. In a major buy across Yahoo, Ford promoted its 2002 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle with exclusive front-page placement on the portal home page for the entire day.


Ford said this was the first time a major marketer used "advanced Web technology to present advertising in a unique way" on Yahoo's home page. It also was the first time a major advertiser "took over" Yahoo's site for a day.


The Web technology that Ford employed was developed by the automaker with Yahoo and the portal's ad agency, J. Walter Thompson of Detroit. The interactive ad featured a bird-watching theme. Once the Yahoo home page was loaded, birds perched on a "Ford No Boundaries" banner ad flew across the screen and began to eat bird seed, revealing an ad for the automaker's 2002 Ford Explorer.


The ad was a takeoff of Ford's "Bird-Boards" offline campaign, a traveling exhibit featuring a two-sided billboard that also is a portable bird feeder. Filled with birdseed, the ad for the 2002 Ford Explorer is gradually revealed as birds eat the seed.


"We continue to try to reach customers in unique and entertaining ways," said Ed Molchany, Ford's Explorer marketing manager. "Our presence on Yahoo gives us the ability to reach millions of people worldwide."


New York-based United Virtualities developed another type of rich media ad unit called a "Shoshkele." These are browser-driven, sound-enabled, free-moving forms that do not require plug-ins and feature imperceptible download times, according to the company.


While technically not considered takeover ads because they do not fill the entire screen, they are nonetheless hard to ignore.


Not only are they effective branding tools, United Virtualities said, but Shoshkeles also offer a number of targeting possibilities such as targeting by geography, time, demographics and technology. The company also noted that since they are only played for a few seconds when a user enters a Web site -- and are only seen once -- the "browsing experience is preserved."


The company developed two Shoshkeles for The Boston Globe's Boston.com Web site. One promotes subscriptions to the newspaper, and the other promotes Boston.com's @bat Insider newsletter. The home-delivery ad features a Globe delivery truck driving across the Web page and "launching" its message of "50 Percent Off Home Delivery" from the back of the truck. The @bat Insider features a clothesline of red socks blowing in the wind. A baseball spins across the page, hits the clothesline and invites readers to sign up for a subscription to the newsletter, which features news about the Boston Red Sox baseball team.


"Shoshkeles allow us to entertain our site visitors and pursue our campaign goals for subscription sales without sacrificing the user's experience," said Lisa DeSisto, vice president and general manager at Boston.com. "We are excited that we can offer our advertisers another vehicle for targeting their audience while providing our visitors with a fun, interactive visual."


The Shoshkeles last no more than eight seconds and generally are shown only once.


"The technology is very rich and infused with personality," said Chris Actis, United Virtualities' marketing director. "They can carry a lot of different messages."


Actis said United Virtualities expects the click-through rate for the Boston.com campaign to be about 5 percent.


He noted that with the company's first Shoshkele, developed for online recruiter Monster.com, the click-through rate was only about 2 percent because of the one-time frequency cap. But people were reloading their browsers two and three times to see the Shoshkele again and again, he said.


"Monster.com was an awareness builder," Actis said.


The Monster.com campaign, which ran on the Terra-Lycos Networks' Lycos portal, featured Monster.com's Trumpasaurus mascot. The ad incorporated audio and animation.


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