Site sponsorships are popular for two reasons: they afford brands the ability to establish a prominent presence on the page, and they provide complete share of voice. Imagine if this same concept of content ownership could be applied to an image - of a particular style of automobile, let's say, or of a celebrity. And imagine if that image could be "sponsored" all across the web.
In-image advertising (or photo-tagging, as it's sometimes known) allows brands to match their campaign objective with relevant images to transform static photographs into interactive ad experiences. The ads themselves can range from banners to Flash units and branded text. In-image ad networks act as brokers in the deal by providing the platform and site partnerships through which to distribute ads. Besides creating a connection between a brand and a relevant image, this form of advertising has the potential to deliver higher than average click-through rates - 20 times higher than traditional ad networks, some companies say.
How does a campaign like this play out? An advertiser calls up an in-image network like GumGum, Luminate (formerly Pixazza), or Image Space Media and describes its campaign needs. The network uses its brand of technology to identify images that are either relevant to the campaign or of interest to the target audience, and seeks them out on its partner sites. When the consumer comes along, she doesn't just see a photograph, but a photograph with a highly relevant and interactive ad overlay.
A recent GumGum campaign for a thriller television series that airs on a major cable network chose to target images that featured the star of the show. Wherever photographs of the actress appeared on the hundreds of sites and blogs within GumGum's distribution network - Hearst Corporation, Scripps, Glam Media, and Time Warner Inc. among them - they would be accompanied by an interactive banner. "We break down every image to a keyword-level understanding that can subsequently be targeted by marketers," says Ophir Tanz, GumGum's CEO, adding that the automated process incorporates image recognition, semantic analysis, image clustering, and incoming search traffic.
Upon clicking on the ad, the user was treated to a video clip of the show along with links to the series' official site page, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. According to GumGum, nearly 90 percent of those who saw the ad played the promo, with 60 percent allowing the video to run to completion.
Image Space Media, recently acquired by contextual advertiser giant Vibrant Media, uses a similar approach by providing advertisers with the option of applying to the image a custom overlay, banner, text message, or Flash "Photostitial." In the case of Google Ventures company Luminate, consumers can identify an interactive image by way of a Luminate icon that appears in the corner of the photograph. Mousing over the image launches a menu of interactive options such as sharing the image to Twitter, sourcing information about the person featured in the photo (such as stats on a famous athlete), watching a video, or listening to a music clip.
With in-image advertising, advertisers can effectively possess an image, object, or persona that's highly relevant to their business such that wherever their target audience goes online, they associate that image with the brand. This can be a real advantage when competition in a given industry or business sector is stiff. Though it wouldn't be a stretch for an entertainment company to boost interest in a movie by advertising on images of its stars, the approach is just as appropriate for an auto manufacturer, cosmetics company, or food product. A car company eager to dominate the convertible market can place ads on all manner of cabriolets, a sunscreen brand can attach banners to images of people on the beach, and a consumer-packaged goods company can break into the pasta market by advertising on the plethora of noodle images found on food blogs.
Over the years, advertisers have tried their hand at dominating site content, social media, and mobile. It's a wonder it's taken this long to turn to images. If photographs aren't yet equal in value to text content in the minds of consumers, then they're certainly close. And if an advertiser can "own" a relevant image online, well then, it has the power to own its own image as well.
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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.
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