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A New Advertising Tool That's Truly Cool

  |  March 2, 2009   |  Comments

Display ads behave like search ads, combining the best features of search and display advertising.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to find any truly new and cool tools that have emerged from the advertising world. We've got search. We've got display. We've got video. We've got podcast ads. And we've got multiple variations of each. But as far as truly new and innovative tools go, there doesn't seem to have been much innovation in a while.

I thought I was the only one who worried about the (subjective, to be sure) decline in advertising innovation. That is, until I read this column that discusses the new declining online ad projections:

    How about actually come up with innovative advertising products? Google-aside, I think the Web industry has gotten lazy when it comes to advertising innovation. There's too much outsourcing to the ad networks and too much of an assumption by the portals and other large properties that gaudy eyeballs will be enough. That's old media thinking. It's enough to get ads when times are good, but not necessarily to keep them when times get bad.

Amen! Like a lot of businesses, when times were flush we all got a little lazy. Just about everything seemed to work and money kept flowing in. In an up economy, just about everyone looks like a marketing genius.

But as things get tougher, it's vital we question assumptions and look for ways to innovate. Ask questions like: How can we improve measurement? How can we get people to respond to our advertising? How do we make advertising more effective? What kind of lessons can we learn?

Over the past few years, one of the biggest lessons we've learned is that the most effective ads are those that intersect with what our users are doing. It's taken a long time for the industry to get over the "addus interruptus" TV model that assumes people are surfing around online and that it's our job to grab their attention and direct them to what we want them to see. Just as TV and radio advertising require interrupting the flow of content to get people to pay attention, much of the online advertising wants consumers to stop what they're doing and do something else.

It's kind of nuts. If you're reading an article about making coconut cream pie, you're not likely to want to jump away and start reading about a new car. You have a task (learning how to make a pie) and you're on that page because you want to accomplish that task. Anything that gets in the way of that task is annoying and will be ignored.

These reasons also explain why search marketing has worked so well. It actually helps users accomplish the task they went online to accomplish. If you're searching for vacation deals to Florida, a sponsored link about great deals on Southwest flights to Florida isn't an annoyance; it just made your task easier to accomplish.

As great as search marketing is, however, it doesn't do much to build a brand in the way display advertising does. It has little emotional impact, which is essential for brand advertising. Search ads just convey information. Hopefully the branding gets accomplished on the site you link to.

Up until now, there's been a gulf between direct-response, information-driven search marketing and brand-oriented direct-response display advertising. Sure, contextual advertising bridges this gap somewhat through algorithms that display ads based on the content on the page, the theory being that someone reading about diamonds might be interested in seeing an ad for diamonds. But if the visitor is reading about the evils of the diamond industry, does he really want to see diamond ads? Contextual advertising isn't the same as search marketing's direct link between consumer behavior/search and the ad itself.

Dapper's out to change that.

Dapper is one of the most interesting and innovative new marketing tools that's emerged in a while. Basically it digs into site inventory to deliver display ads directly to a user based on her behavior. The result? Display ads behave like search ads, combining the best features of search and display advertising.

How does it work? Watch this short video that describes Dapper's model. In it, a user searching for information about Orlando vacations is served a display ad from Expedia with an actual price and location of an Orlando hotel when the user goes to the Fodor's site to read more about potential vacation locations.

It's simple and elegant, combining the best features of both types of advertising with real-time information about the advertiser's products. Like search advertising, it's about solving an immediate problem for the consumer. And like display ads, it allows for interactivity, branding, and an emotional response from the user that helps make the sale.

Dapper's model is exciting because we're finally getting at a form of advertising that really leverages the Internet's capabilities in a new and useful way without clinging to old models. For years the Internet has provided rapid information exchange, interactivity, algorithmic information serving, and user behavior measurement, yet we've mostly been using advertising models (at least on the display side) that aren't all that different from print ads. Sure, we've got rich media and video. But this is different because it ties directly into the inventory of what's being advertised to create an ad that meshes directly with what people are doing online: trying to solve problems.

Look at what's been successful on the Internet, and you'll find one overriding truth that ties all successful online ventures together (I call this Carton's Law): that which works best online is that which can only work online. Google, eBay, and Amazon have succeeded because they provide us with something we couldn't get in any other way and in a way that takes full advantage of the medium where we're experiencing them.

So far, only search marketing has really done this. Dapper now offers a new vision of how display advertising can evolve into a more effective and powerful marketing tool for all of us.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean Carton

Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

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