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Let's Hear It for the Voken

  |  January 24, 2002   |  Comments

Whether you call them "floating" ads, "takeover" ads, or "vokens," these dramatic placements are gaining ground.

In an age in which advertising saturates our daily lives, appearing in nearly every available space and assaulting us with an endless barrage of messages, getting the attention of consumers is a constant challenge. The online environment is no exception. Banner ads were once novel enough to entice an Internet user to click through to a Web site or to commit a brand name to memory. Now we have come to a point where creativity and originality are imperative. To the consumer who surfs on a regular basis, and even to that new Internet user for whom a Web page represents an absolute overdose of information, banners and buttons can fade into the background -- putting good advertising dollars to waste.

One of the latest trends in Internet advertising endeavors could change all that. The "floating" ad, which is sometimes referred to as a "voken" (a virtual token), is something many in the industry consider to be a solution to the cookie-cutter ad placement. Vokens have been in circulation for a few years now, but they've only recently begun to gain the consideration and exposure that they deserve. You'll often see these rich-media images running down the side of your screen, dropping down into the center of your Web page, or suddenly materializing and traveling across the content you've just been reading, finally coming to rest in a button or skyscraper placement. To be sure, these ads are designed to grab your attention. Yet some media buyers question their effectiveness at driving traffic and generating measurable results, fearing that they will instead annoy or puzzle consumers (an attitude that is amusingly reminiscent of the prejudice against the uncapped pop-up ad).

If the objective of your client's online campaign is to build brand awareness and a high click-through rate doesn't top your list of priorities, this type of ad placement can be the ideal marketing tool. It will rarely include a company slogan or a written call to action prompting users to click, but its presence can stimulate a powerful recall factor. I can remember almost every voken ad I've seen to date, and although most consumers may not be quite so attentive or go in search of creative new designs as I do, I suspect that the overall result is similar.

For clients who pose an especially perplexing marketing challenge, this ad format is truly a gift. Imagine, for example, being given the mandate to build awareness for a roofing company online. Now, unlike a business that sells household necessities or even big-ticket items such as electronic equipment or jewelry, a company that sells roofing materials has little use for an immediate consumer reaction. If the average consumer only needs to renovate his roof once every 20 years, then in the eyes of a company that sells shingles, the principles of customer motivation are dramatically different. Such a company must put its efforts into ensuring that years from now, when it's finally time for you to buy that new roof, its name will come to mind. The product may not be particularly compelling, but the company needs to entice consumers just the same.

Enter the voken ad. Even a ho-hum product can stir consumer interest with a unique and memorable ad placement, and voken ads can be the brand builder's answer to groundbreaking online marketing. The possibilities for a voken-ad roofing campaign are simply endless. And whether a consumer recalls the ad six months from now when his ceiling springs a leak, or whether you've managed to remind him that updating his old shingles is on his to-do list for the upcoming summer, this stylish ad placement has served its purpose. A really great voken could even have the salutary effect of accelerating a decision on roof replacement. Banners can be easily ignored, but vokens demand that consumers take notice. Their clever use of the space in and around an Internet user's screen makes traditional online placements seem as mundane as a lifeless direct mail flyer.

This same methodology applies to countless other products that have had online media buyers racking their brains. We'll surely see this trend develop in the years ahead, so, buyers, keep an eye on your screens. Observe as tedious banners and buttons, and even those irrepressible pop-up ads, are replaced with innovative floating-ad campaigns. Like all ad placements, vokens have their limitations. But, for the moment, they still remain conspicuous enough to draw some stares and even build a little word-of-mouth promotion on the side.

Whereas banners can be overlooked and pop-up ads can breed aggravation and throw Internet novices for a loop, vokens are a fresh and exciting advertising alternative. And if simply building awareness is your goal, their low participation factor is an added bonus. They don't ask much of the user, but they offer a few good seconds of commitment-free entertainment in return. Now what consumer would rebuff that?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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