Rich Media Is Not Just TV Online

As GIF banner advertisements are nestling into every nook and cranny of every Web site on the Internet, users have learned to ignore the space.

The simplistic three-frame GIF animations are skillfully recognized for what they are: meaningless, poor-quality attempts to gain attention.

GIFs are getting click-throughs of 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent depending on what study you look at. For direct response advertising, getting one person for every 300 advertisements delivered is not very interesting or effective.

Rich media outperforms GIF banner advertising. Depending on the creative, technology and format the ads are delivered in, rich media boasts click-through rates of 1 percent to 30 percent and higher. Though clicks are only one way to measure success, and arguably are a bad measure for branding campaigns and other nondirect response ads, rich media becomes interesting in making media dollars more effective.

Typically, creative is a small portion of the overall ad spend compared with money spent on media buys, so if you can optimize the performance of the campaign by building more effective creative, you are saving big time in the long run.

Higher click-through rates in rich media result from several factors. First, you can do much more with rich media. You can play a game, view live stock prices, save a coupon, check the weather and request information about a product — all from inside the advertisement. The creative can be more useful, entertaining and relevant.

Secondly, rich media is plain sexier. The highly animated ads catch your eye more often than static images. Least important is that rich media is still new to consumers. The first time I saw an animated GIF on the Web I was mesmerized, and I had to try clicking on it. Similarly, the first-time that users see video, hear audio or have the opportunity to be interactive with content such as a game in an ad, they will click just to experience something new.

I am asked at least once a week, “What do you think of running rich media ads like a 30-second television spot on a broadband site?” My answer is usually, “I like the idea about as much as buying a 30-second TV spot on the Super Bowl showing an ad created for an outdoor billboard.”

If you ran a billboard on the Super Bowl, you would have grossly wasted many media dollars with the wrong ad for the wrong medium. While this example is a “no-brainer,” the only reason people ask to run television commercials online is a lack of understanding of the online medium. Video ads are enjoying high click-through rates, but the novelty will wear off, and we will be left with a tired format that is wrong for the medium. Please don’t put television spots in my Web browser.

Let’s face it. People hate television commercials and often use that time to do something else. But if you stay and watch the spots, it’s even worse. You are bombarded by messages that don’t mean anything, with cars you would never buy and beer you might never drink. Maybe when television gets more interactive, you can select the type of advertising you would like to receive, or choose from a list of companies or industries to receive offers from. But don’t hold your breath.

So why are agencies and advertisers still asking about putting television spots onto broadband sites? Maybe to save a few creative dollars, but most likely it is due to inexperience in the medium and to initially high “novelty factor” click statistics they have seen in tests. In many ways, this is the pioneering stage of digital marketing. Most people are experimenting, trying new things, failing and succeeding, and increasing their knowledge about what does and does not work. It’s great that this is happening, but let’s make sure to understand the medium fully and use it to full advantage.

Rich media allows for creative freedom to build interactive experiences, not ads. Ads done in Java, Flash or any of the tools built around these technologies (Bluestreak, Enliven, Unicast’s Superstitial, Audiobase and others) are more relevant to the user. Higher relevancy comes because more information can be exchanged between the advertiser and the consumer. The consumer, or “viewer,” becomes a participant in the process. Online ads can be timely, entertaining, useful and engaging. They can create a compelling experience. If you don’t like the online ad, you should always have the power to quit the ad and not waste time with it. Advertisers should even have been tracking this.

If the user closes a Web browser, which ad was being displayed at that time? Maybe then after the hundredth time that you failed to respond to a light beer ad, the marketer might figure out that you’re not interested in light beer and find a new product for you.

People don’t hate advertising, and they often will pay for it. If you have ever purchased a bridal magazine or an issue of Computer Shopper, you are guilty of paying for advertising. You buy those books for the ads. Computer Shopper is extremely relevant if you are looking to buy a computer and is about as useful as a doorstop if you are not in the market for a computer. You want to read the ads to learn about hardware, prices and which vendors to buy them from.

To make online advertising successful and relevant to viewers, we must understand the medium and leverage its strengths against its weaknesses to create effective marketing. When we achieve this understanding as advertisers and agencies, we can create ads worthy of the viewer’s participation.

• Karim B. Sanjabi is founder and president/CEO of Freestyle Interactive, San Francisco. Reach him at [email protected]

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