The term "roadblock" may derive from offline traffic terminology, but in advertising it means something quite different. Many of us still think of it as it relates to television advertising, where an ad is shown on multiple different stations simultaneously.
Media buyers have recreated this online, snapping up all of the home page inventory on numerous major sites and portals on a single day, so a user is confronted with the same ad on numerous sites. Online roadblocks are able to mimic the effects of a TV roadblock in this manner by exposing their ad to massive home page audiences and expanding their reach beyond a single site buy. The ultimate objective, of course, is to obtain 100 percent share of voice.
This is very useful for advertisers who need to promote something significant and timely, like the arrival of a new film in theaters; the series premiere of a popular TV series; a major political, entertainment, or sporting event; or the launch of a new product. For this reason -- along with the ability to show video and employ rich media with a large page footprint, and their sizeable price tag -- roadblock campaigns have been particularly popular among entertainment companies and big-name brands.
Ad networks are a good choice for advertisers interested in running roadblock campaigns as well because they make it easy for media buyers to place the ads across multiple sites. Advertisers like Toyota have used local site ad network and technology provider Centro to easily place their new model auto ads on 140 different sites across the Web.
Ken Margolis, founder and CEO of Premium Network, an ad network with numerous content verticals that specializes in roadblock and takeover ads, says that his clients rely on them to incite user interaction. "We have found that takeovers and roadblocks have been the key elements of successful campaigns, and able to surpass advertiser and agency expectations with increased impression levels and by delivering above average click-through rates."
If it seems that the line between roadblock and takeover ad is sometimes blurred, it's because the modern-day roadblock can also be limited to a single site, and even a single ad on a page -- just as long as it provides complete share of voice. Recently, pizza chain Papa John's ran a roadblock ad on Facebook promoting a free pizza for every user who became a fan of the brand on its Facebook Page. Thanks to the home page ad and an associated e-mail campaign, Papa John's garnered 131,000 new fans in a single day. As of March, it was the second fastest-growing brand on Facebook after Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
"The New York Times" has also used a Facebook roadblock ad to increase its page fans on the social site and ignite a political discussion. It placed the ad, along with video footage of President Barack Obama, post-election last November and almost quadrupled its Facebook fans as a result.
Always ready to deliver with great home page campaign creative is Apple, and the brand didn't disappoint with its March roadblock for the new 17-inch MacBook Pro on NYTimes.com. As reported by ClickZ, the ad was a study in page integration while managing to grab the user's attention. That it coincided with related new TV spots was also a savvy move, creating a cross-media roadblock that effectively alerted consumers to the just-launched product and generated excitement about its features.
Roadblock ads leave the door wide open for advertiser creativity -- and when you're catering to millions and delaying their access to site content in the process, your stuff had better be darn good. A great place to start conceptualizing your ideas is by visiting gaming and video sites, which are known for their elaborate home page campaigns. A roadblock promoting the game "Tomb Raider Underworld" (seen here) as created by Eyeblaster that appeared on IGN.com invites the user to participate in the ad and affect its outcome, while Break.com this week featured the Wii game "Punch-Out!!" on its home page with a combination of wallpaper and video clips.
The somewhat distasteful notion of "blocking" consumers aside, roadblocks serve a valuable purpose in their ability to capture users' attention when they first arrive at a site. You might be surprised by how many (and what type of) sites are willing to work with you on these campaigns, so keep them in mind for those times when you need big impact and an even bigger audience.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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