Expanding banners date back over a decade -- plenty of time for them to evolve from a simple Java-based banner to a rich user experience incorporating streaming video, advergames, data capture, and more. Lately they've progressed even further thanks to advertisers, rich media companies, and ad networks willing to experiment and push the envelope in order to capture users' attention -- and of course, their spending money.
Advertisers have traditionally used expandable banners to increase their allotted ad space and promote user interaction within what is essentially a miniature product or brand site. Sometimes, expandables are an obvious choice. A unit created by Eyeblaster for Ikea promoted the increased space afforded by the retailer's closet storage systems by expanding the size of a closet threefold on the screen. An ad created by PointRoll for Armour-Eckrich Meats used the expanded space for more practical purposes, offering tabbed descriptions of three of its products and a coupon link. Entertainment companies and auto brands like expandable units because they're more effective at showcasing movie trailers and beauty shots than other smaller units, while consumer packaged goods companies enjoy the ability to display their entire line of eye shadow colors or chip flavors in the context of a single media buy.
While many ads still serve these same purposes, the way in which goals are executed has advanced on par with new technologies and Internet usage trends. An ad for "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" that's currently running on TVGuide.com is clearly intended to increase awareness of the switch in program hosts and promote engagement with the new show. What better way to do so than to include links to the show's Twitter stream and Facebook Page? Both are prominently featured in the expandable ad.
A recent banner for the Sony Pictures film "Angels & Demons" followed the familiar entertainment client formula of using the expandable unit as a platform for the promotional trailer, but didn't stop at just one. Developer EyeWonder incorporated multiple video options -- a trailer, teaser, and two featurettes -- along with a photo gallery, link to an associated online game, and cross-promotion for the Blu-Ray DVD release of sister film "The Da Vinci Code."
Jason Glickman, CEO of video ad network Tremor Media, has noted a significant increase in the number of in-banner rich media campaigns incorporating video over the last year. "They now make up the majority of all rich media executions," he says. "This is driven by the overall increase in budgets being allotted to online video as it has moved past 'experimental' stage, which in turn has given advertisers an abundance of approved video assets to use."
While RSS occasionally appears in expandable units, real-time feeds are starting to turn up more and more, according to Paul Knegten, head of marketing and senior director of business development with Dapper, a company that facilitates the creation of dynamic display ads. "We're seeing real-time beginning to take a front seat, whether that be through Twitter or through dynamic data -- real-time pricing, (product) availability, and search boxes for the consumer to interact with the ad." Knegten points to a recent banner for Volvo that features real-time tweets. Dapper, meanwhile, allows advertisers to pull up-to-the-minute product and inventory data from their sites to create truly "live" ads and mini catalogues featuring must-see products. When an item is sold out on the advertiser's Web site its absence is reflected in the ad, averting potential consumer disappointment.
The Web isn't the only digital platform enamored with expandable ads. Mobile campaigns by mobile solution providers like Crisp Wireless and mobile ad networks like Quattro Wireless (which recently developed an expandable mobile microsite for Volvo) now offer expandable units similar to those found online. The ads are generally targeted to iPhones, and those mobile devices that support rich media.
Expandable banners are the cornerstone of many an online marketing campaign, and the reasons for that are clear. These versatile units can fulfill most any purpose while providing an engaging brand experience for the user.
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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.