Banner Ads Rich Media, Richer Response (1,251 words)
By Kelly J. Andrews
While Internet usage and e-commerce have skyrocketed, banner ad click-through rates have dropped precipitously amid the clamor. While 83 million U.S. adults now have Internet access, according to IntelliQuest, an Austin, TX, market research firm, most industry analysts say the response rate to banner ads is less than 1 percent. There may be more consumers online, but direct marketers aren't interested in creating or collecting impressions—they're trying to make sales.
So how can they break through the deafening noise on the Internet to make messages standout? Some think rich media is the answer. The use of rich media in online advertising campaigns allows marketers to employ sound and video to catch the attention of jaded Web browsers. But it has the potential to do even more: Turn the banner ad from a branding medium or click-generator into a true response channel.
A principle of direct marketing is that it must interrupt and keep on interrupting. Part of the decline in the success of banner ads is that the content on which they are placed has become too absorbing—too richly graphic, too hypnotic, too interactive—and plain banner ads can't compete.
Explains Michael DeNunzio, CEO of Four Points Digital, a Chicago interactive agency that develops rich-media creative, "Placing ads goes beyond demographics to psychology. If you have a male target who's 20 to 50, you might think you should place your ad on ESPN Sports Zone. But if he's deeply engrossed in content you're not likely to take his attention away from what he's there to see."
By allowing banner ads to become a direct response medium, rich-media, e-commerce-enabled banners can collect leads and sales without taking consumers away from the Internet content that brought them online.
Says DeNunzio, "Rich media and e-commerce banners give deeper, richer experiences without requiring the user to leave the content."
Media for the Masses
Rich media can go beyond flash and dazzle to give banners transactional capability, allowing Web users to sample products or make purchases.
Rich media provides:
• near CD-quality sound;
• streaming animation;
• transactional capability; and
• secure purchases within a banner.
Says Lyn Chitow Oakes, vice president of marketing for San Francisco-based advertising network Flycast, "When we converted over to our rich-media-enabled network, one of the factors was that rich media is very time consuming and costly for advertisers to develop if you have to coerce 20 Web sites to run it."
Now Flycast provides tags that allow more than 850 sites in its network to run hassle-free rich media campaigns, eliminating the negotiation process for advertisers and the programming bother for Web site owners.
To make the process even easier for advertisers, the company worked with partners First Virtual Holdings Inc. and Thinking Media Corp. to develop a program called ResponsePoint, which creates rich-media templates that are ready for commerce.
"The purpose of the templates is that instead of having to start from scratch every time you want a rich-media banner, you start with a template and drop your graphics and copy into the template, and you're ready to go," explains Oakes.
Rich Media Works
In March, @Home Network, a Redwood City, CA-based provider of broadband cable Internet access, and processor manufacturer Intel released the results of a a five-month broadband advertising research study. The campaign found that rich-media advertising significantly increases brand recall 34-percent higher than the average for narrowband GIF ads. More importantly for direct marketers, those who clicked spent between 30 seconds and five minutes interacting with the ads. Another recent study by Wired Digital and research firm Millward Brown Interactive found that the three participating advertisers realized a 340-percent increase in clickthrough with rich media.
What kind of strategies and offers work with rich media?
1. Banner-contained secure e-commerce. Audio Book Club conducted a rich-media advertising campaign using @Home's Enliven technology in December that allowed Internet book-lovers to instantly take advantage of its control offer: ordering four audiobooks for a penny. Buyers could complete secure transactions through the ad without leaving the Web page.
2. Instant print fulfillment. Amazon.com ran a co-branded ad that offered readers an instant excerpt of Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full." The excerpt was printed via Enliven's HardCopy technology, co-developed with Hewlett Packard, allowing users to print the excerpt on any printer.
3. Graphical product previews. Four Points Digital designed an ad for the online-subscription service of Encyclopaedia Britannica that allowed a preview of the reference's amazing graphics ability, in addition to its well-known textual expertise.
After intriguing readers with rich-media banners that allowed them to choose a topic of interest, Encyclopaedia Britannica then jumped interested consumers to a one-page site with drop-down menus and that allowed a full rich-media preview complete with archival video and audio enhancements.
Says DeNunzio, "The great part of the Web for Encylopaedia Britannica is that people can experience it before they purchase it. Using the Web is the way to get people involved in the product itself."
4. Lead generation. Disc Makers, a CD-ROM manufacturer, ran a successful ResponsePoint campaign on the Flycast network. In the two-step marketing effort, an e-commerce-enabled banner was used to collect e-mail addresses for marketing follow-up. Says Jon Cooper, Disc Makers' director of CD-ROM business development, "Using rich-media banners gave us results that were even better than anticipated."
5. E-mail list building. In a twist, Flycast ran a campaign for WebShopper, an online computer store. The WebShopper ads used rich media to collect e-mail subscriptions for its daily newsletter of hot deals, giving the company an ongoing opportunity to interact with prospects who have willing put signs around their necks to say they're interested in buying computer products.
Other direct marketing adaptations for the format are unlimited. As blinking, postage-size GIF banner ads lose their ability to captivate the online audience, rich media may keep banner ads viable, albeit in a transformed and enriched format. Flycast, which recently served its billlionth rich- media banner, already delivers 20 percent of its impressions as rich-media ads, compared to less than 1 percent a year ago.
Says Flycast's Lyn Chitow Oakes, "I had a discussion with someone from Forrester Research about six months ago. He asked me what I thought the rich-media percentage was going to be in a year. I said 25 percent, and he thought I was out of my gourd. Now here we are only six months later and we're already at 20 percent."
Four Point Digital's Michael DeNunzio believes that rich media is just the latest development, as online lead-generation and marketing methods become farther removed from print-based models.
"It really just takes knowing the intricacies of the Internet," he explains. "In the off-line direct marketing world, there's the 40-40-20 rule. We have the [online] 20-0-80 rule. It's 20 percent offer, 0 percent creative and 80 percent the experience of getting the consumer from point A to point B."
Rich media is a means to shorten the distance between those two points.