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Is Rich Media Our Friend?

  |  February 15, 2008   |  Comments

After more than a decade, why can't interactive ads get beyond the "click here" button?

It takes a lot of time for many of us to adjust to something new. Think: flip-top cans, drive-through retail, self-service retail checkout. Still, some "new" things never take hold.

With the interactive medium, you see lots of "new" things every day -- new ways to navigate, listen, and absorb information. But what about a relationship? No, not in terms of long, romantic days in amorous bliss with a banner ad. It's more like: how does anything interactive relate to the way you or I do things we're already doing?

I don't know who did it, but the person who came up with the idea to put a button on a banner ad with the words, "click here" provided a new revelation. Back in the Web's earlier days, this feature was an effective way to get someone to see there was more than just a silly looking animated GIF ad banner. It caught your attention while you surfed the Web and meant you could do something with the ad.

Should we be surprised that the chiseled button graphic with two words represents the most innovative event that's occurred on the Web?

If you've ever read Donald Norman's book, "The Psychology of Everyday Things," you'll understand why many people fumble with interaction design. Now that the velocity of technology development cycles has reached a veritable blur, we must now, more than ever, design for human beings.

All forms of design are like a fractal. Every origin spawns a multitude of variations and then it starts getting very trippy and you get a lot of mutation.

That's why some people are party to interaction conventions and standards. These people are usually very intelligent and organized, and they want everyone to be able to experience good design at every interactive level.

Others would have none of that. They think more in the abstract. Maybe it's important to know where the "click here" is on the page and maybe it's better to saunter around, experiencing other things before you get to it. The journey, not the destination, is more of a marketing, brand experience creed when it comes to interactive. Not that either approach disagrees with this, but it's the "how" that's the big dispute.

Beyond a pure visual relationship, we must think of some of the more essential things. Content is an important way to build a relationship. Whether it's a tagline, editorial copy, or whatever, the right tone can suffice in bringing people in.

All of this has a lot to do with human bias. Various scientific studies have shown the different ways exposure to familiar and unfamiliar experiences affect the prefrontal cortex.

When you feel as if something's familiar and you can relate to it, that thing reaches a level of "neutral ground" in your experience. Here's where most marketers use interactive and many times fall down.

The best illustration of this is when we see a big brand breaking its tone and style conventions in an interactive experience (meaning the agency got its way) and we find a refreshing approach to the brand.

Other times we see the opposite. A cold, stalwart set of instructions for entering the site, ad, or application. As the user you feel somewhat inferior.

Rich media, as we know it, has gone through a lot of changes. Yet, the last best thing we've done is invent a button with "click here" embedded in it?

Don't get me wrong, there are some elegant ways of engaging people, and there have been amazing innovations in user experience design. All in all, though, we still haven't had a friendly relationship with rich media through interaction design as the underlying conflict of tone and manner (brand experience) vs. usability (functional experience) has yet to be resolved.

That is, if they should ever need to come to terms with each other, and maybe that's what makes interactive so interesting in the first place.

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Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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