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Introducing the MFAA and the Macromedia Tracking Kit

  |  January 24, 2001   |  Comments

What are the MFAA and the Macromedia Tracking Kit? If you don't know, it's time to get acquainted. Bill extends them a warm welcome and explains how the deployment of Flash- based ads just got easier for the rich media and Internet industries.

Recently I attended the inaugural meeting of the Macromedia Flash Advertising Alliance (MFAA) in San Francisco. The MFAA is a newly formed body of Internet advertising professionals (publishers, agencies, ad-serving networks, technology vendors, and advertisers) whose common goal is to make it easier to deploy Flash-based advertising. The main focus of the meeting was the introduction of the Macromedia Tracking Kit, the first in a series of initiatives aimed at making deployment of Flash ads across third-party networks less complicated.

In the past the problem has been thus: The only way to track click-throughs from a Flash banner was to include a "click tag" within the Flash file itself (unless you were using a rich media deployment system such as Unicast or Enliven, both of which provide tracking ability). Unfortunately, a unique click tag needs to be generated for each individual banner, network, and site that the banner is going to run on.

For instance, if you were going to run a Flash banner across multiple sites in the DoubleClick network, a separate banner containing a unique click tag for each site would need to be generated for each piece of creative. This would involve opening the fla file, the raw language file used to generate the swf file that is played; inserting, by hand, the correct click tag; then generating the swf file, which gets deployed across the network. If you were also to decide to run the banner on L90, a whole new set of banners would need to be generated for that buy.

The end result is that hundreds of versions of the same creative might need to be generated to run a campaign, which is not only costly but time consuming, contributing to the lag time that rich media banners can take to deploy. As one entertainment-oriented advertiser at the meeting pointed out, a campaign often needs to be turned around in a week to promote a new entertainment vehicle. Delays at the ad-serving network and the publishing site due to the click-tag implementation problem make this difficult, if not impossible, with Flash.

The Macromedia Tracking Kit, developed by companies such as DoubleClick and supported by L90, 24/7, Targetnet, DoubleClick, and Engage, pulls the click-tag information outside of the banner and makes the banner look for it in the "embed tag." The embed tag is the bit of code that surrounds the banner where ad networks such as DoubleClick would normally place the click-tag information for a standard GIF banner.

What this means is the creative shop can now create one banner that can run across any network and site (just like a GIF) without there being a need to develop new versions for each site and network, a tremendous time and cost savings. And although each network might handle the click tag differently, the Flash banner and the process used to create the banner remain the same regardless of the network deploying the ad.

My company, Emerging Interest, is one of the founding members of the MFAA, and I was asked by Macromedia to give some introductory remarks to the group on the rich media landscape. Here's a summary of what I said:

The online advertising industry. The Internet is the fastest growing medium in history. Of homes in the U.S. with computers, 92 percent are connected to the Internet (over 50 percent of the country). But though nine percent of people's media viewing time is spent online, only two percent of advertising budgets is allocated to online. After achieving triple-digit growth over the last four years, moving from $239 million in 1996 to $8 billion in 2000, online advertising is predicted to show zero percent growth in 2001. Where's the disconnect?

Why rich media? Many analysts, including those at Forrester Research and FAC/Equities, are predicting that 2001 will be the year for rich media and cite the current market conditions as the reason. The fact is that the standard GIF banner is becoming less effective.

Two things are needed for online advertising to work: putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time and catching his or her attention long enough to deliver the message. Although the industry has devoted much work and research to the first part of this equation, little has been devoted to the second part. Rich media in numerous studies from Millward Brown, Ipsoso-ASI, The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and others prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that rich media advertising is more effective in generating click-throughs, brand awareness, and purchase intent than static forms of advertising.

Why vector graphics? While many forms of rich media exist and will thrive, including video, Java, audio, and vector graphics (such as Flash), only audio and vector graphics (with their compact file sizes and ability to create full-screen, TV-like interactive experiences) are specifically designed to work optimally over a 56K narrowband connection. And although broadband is gaining acceptance, it's predicted that only 30 percent of homes will have broadband by 2005. For better or worse, most people will be dialing into the Internet over a narrowband connection for some time to come.

Why Flash? There are many vector-graphic formats out there, including the open standard scalable vector graphics (SVG). But two things are needed for a sustainable advertising initiative: a widely distributed player/browser that can read and interpret the vector files and a vast community of designers with robust tools to develop content. Only Flash, with its greater than 90 percent penetration and established community of artists and designers, fits those criteria.

And that is why the success of the MFAA is so important, not just for the rich media industry, but for the Internet as an industry. Our survival depends on it.

Until next week, keep it rich!

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Bill McCloskey

Bill McCloskey is the founder and chief evangelist for Email Data Source, a competitive intelligence resource for e-mail marketers. He was named one of online advertising's 50 most influential people by "Media" magazine and one of the 100 people to know by "BtoB Magazine." He's been a recognized pioneer in interactive advertising for over 10 years.

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