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PeopleFirst Testing Flash Banners for Leads

PeopleFirst.com, one of the leading online vehicle loan providers, will test Flash banners next month to acquire customers.

The San Diego company plans to place interactive banners on sites such as Autobytel.com, Automobile Magazine, CarSmart.com, Kelley Blue Book, Automotive News, Popular Mechanics, GoTo.com and WomenMotorist.com.

“We're doing well with GIFs, we're doing well with HTML, but I think that we could be doing better,” said Susan Timmerman, director of online marketing communications at PeopleFirst Finance LLC.

“Like anything in marketing, people like things that are new,” Timmerman said. “When the banner was new, it was getting unbelievable click throughs. The same thing with e-mail marketing [before] it got saturated and it started not being such a high acquisition tool. I think Flash will be fun. It will attract new people.”

The Flash banner's Vector technology uses lines instead of pixels, allowing for moving images. Also, the file size is smaller and downloads are faster. To view the banner, consumers must have the Macromedia Flash Player installed on their computers.

“It's more consumer-friendly,” Timmerman said. “We found that 90 percent of Web users have the Macromedia Flash Player installed in their computers. It's pretty good penetration, and we feel that we'll reach our audience because this technology has arrived.”

Created inhouse, the banner will cost PeopleFirst an estimated $3,000, including the use of Enliven technology. DoubleClick, New York, will serve the Flash banner ads for a month on the eight auto-focused sites.

“These sites accept this new technology, and we'll see if our click rates and, ultimately, if our conversion rates increase,” Timmerman said.

Founded in 1995 and on the Internet two years later, PeopleFirst claims to be the largest online originator and service provider of vehicle loans. It offers automobile and motorcycle loans, promising approval or denial within 15 minutes.

In many cases, approved consumers receive PeopleFirst's Blank Check product, which they can use to shop for vehicles 24 hours later.

The Blank Check is a no-obligation product for loan recipients that can be used to buy a used or new car from any dealer nationwide or to refinance a loan.

PeopleFirst's use of targeted GIF and HTML banners has yielded click-through rates of 1 percent so far. Since the company is privately held, Timmerman declined to disclose the conversion rate of those click throughs.

She also did not go into the overall media spend of the entire Flash banner effort but said it varied from site to site on a cost-per-thousand-impressions basis.

“It could be anywhere from a $10 CPM to $45 or $55, just depending on how targeted it is,” Timmerman said.

The Flash banner will add to the marketing tactics PeopleFirst deploys to attract customers to its site. These include strategic partnerships, banner ads, integrated content, direct mail, e-mail and inserts with partners.

With the Flash banners, “what I'm going to look at is by what percent do I increase the number of loans compared to control?” Timmerman said. “And by what percent did my costs decrease compared to a control?”

She said her company will compare the Flash banner with a banner currently in rotation that has proved successful for PeopleFirst.

“Bottom line, I want to acquire more customers for a less amount of money,” Timmerman said. “That's my sole goal. It's nice, of course, to increase our brand image. Maybe people would see us as more technologically advanced and that's part of the process.”

But, Timmerman added, “At the end of the day, if [Flash banners are] a more expensive way for me to acquire customers, I probably would not renew it.”

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