Rich Media: The New Clutter Buster

Guess how many online ads you are exposed to in one day? More than 440, according to Jupiter Research, all competing for your attention.

Jupiter estimates that this number will double by 2005, with $16.5 billion expected to be spent on online advertising that year. Realizing their competition for eyeballs, advertisers must find new and creative ways for their online advertising dollars to have an effect. Rich media may be the answer.

Conceptually, rich media is the “pop-up video” of the online advertising space. Rich media is anything beyond the traditional banner ad that uses advanced technology to enable advertisers to make a greater impact without forcing the user away from his favorite site. Flash, dynamic HTML, Superstitials, interstitials and streaming video are common rich media tools.

Rich media typically has higher click-through rates, ranging from 2 percent to 40 percent. That compares with an average of 0.3 percent for traditional banner advertising.

But click-through rates do not necessarily tell us much, except that advertisers attracted someone’s attention — for now.

Perhaps more important than the quantitative results are the qualitative results. Rich media provides another form for target marketing by personalizing the user experience. Furthermore, rich media builds an interactive experience with the consumer. The advertiser provides a more enhanced message, resulting in the consumer emotionally connecting with the brand — an excellent method for brand building online. When measuring branding impact, Millward Brown Interactive, San Francisco, found that consumers exposed to a streaming media ad were five times more aware of the advertiser’s ad and were 38 times more aware of the advertiser’s brand compared with banner advertisements.

EMarketer, New York, notes a 15 percent improvement in brand image and a 200 percent increase in purchase intent with rich media technologies over the traditional ad banner. With its increasing success, more advertisers are looking to use rich media as part of their online advertising strategies.

If rich media has all of these benefits, why hasn’t everyone jumped on the bandwagon? According to Jupiter, 50 percent of advertisers say production, deployment and costs are the biggest reasons against using rich media online. Others claim unclear contributions to return on investment as a deterrent. While rich media may take longer to produce and cost more than the traditional ad banner, brand-building initiatives should not be calculated by traditional click-through rates and cost-per-acquisition online measurements alone. The benefits to ROI must be looked at over the long term, with branding impact and intent to purchase playing an important role in gauging success.

A false perception is that most sites do not accept rich media advertising, thereby making deployment difficult. Increasingly, many major portals, networks and sites are accepting various forms of rich media. As rich media success stories increase, its use will accelerate, not only because it will improve the user experience, but also because it meets the growing demand from advertisers.

There are several things to consider before making the commitment to use rich media.

What is your brand’s vision for the online space? Are you looking to build relationships with consumers, or are you looking for the quick return on investment?

Again, rich media is excellent for enhancing a consumer’s emotion-based relationship with a brand, but be prepared to measure ROI with different methodology. As online brand impact becomes a more common focus, research and measurement services will put rich media to the test, evaluating rich media’s long-term effects on the consumer’s intent to purchase and lending more valuable insight than click-through rates.

Understand your consumers’ online behavior and target accordingly. What makes a rich media strategy successful is the depth of a relationship-building base that its placement can offer. Even the best rich media banner will fail if it is not placed in a relevant location. For example, in moving an e-commerce rich media banner to a more targeted transaction-oriented site, one advertiser recently realized a 300 percent increase in sales.

Build an integrated media strategy that supports your rich media advertising. Rich media will not work if it is not integrated into your overall advertising campaign strategy. Leverage your offline campaigns to build integrated partnerships and sponsorships online. This integration will enhance your results and provide additional, valuable advertising opportunities.

Is rich media the definitive answer to all online advertising woes? Probably not, but it can be an effective method for breaking through the plethora of banner advertising on the Internet. With the massive numbers of ads being served to consumers online and offline, it is even more important for advertisers to create a branding experience with the consumer that will last beyond the first impression. With the heightened experience rich media allows, this is now possible. If you can build your media strategy so that rich media is part of the picture, and if you understand the new set of metrics for determining success, then rich media may be the right clutter buster.

Key Rich Media Terms

• Flash — Authoring software developed by Macromedia used to create animated programs, graphic illustrations and simple interactivity. Flash can enhance the more traditional banner to increase movement. It also can be implemented into interactive-type games that may be passed along virally.

• Dynamic HTML — Adds animation to an existing Web page. The ad unit can “float” across the page to grab your attention while appearing to be integrated with the site.

• Enriched ads — A banner format that expands to create an interactive environment. Animation, sound and video can be used to capture the attention of prospective customers. E-commerce, lead generation and branding campaigns can be run directly within the banner ads.

• Superstitial — Adds Flash or other animation technology with Java programming to deliver a video-like Web commercial in a separate window that floats over the media.

The ad is designed to download before it appears and is easily closed. Unicast has a trademark on the term and claims click rates of up to 40 percent, with an average of 7.5 percent.

• Interstitial — Similar to the Superstitial, only it runs in the dead time between pages.

• Streaming video and media — A sequence of moving images that are sent in compressed form over the Internet and displayed to the viewer as they arrive. Streaming media is streaming video with sound. With streaming video or streaming media, a Web user does not have to wait to download a large file before seeing the video or hearing the sound. Instead, it is sent in a continuous stream and played as it arrives.

• Heike Bundesen is lead consultant at NOVO, San Francisco. Reach her at [email protected]

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