Agency folks remember a time, not so long ago, when the vendors of rich media owned their formats. Eyeblaster was the "floating ad" company. Klipmart and Eyewonder dominated video. PointRoll was the go-to Boy for expanding units. Unicast (now Viewpoint) did transitional ads.
No longer. Every week brings a press release from one rich media player or another heralding an astounding new ad unit. Inevitably, the launch of said product is followed by a chorus of "We already offer that!" from competitors. This is especially apparent in the area of video advertising, owned by two players, Eyewonder and Klipmart, as recently as a year ago, but now peddled by all the rest.
What does the democratization of ad units mean for the rich media marketplace? In a world where every vendor offers every format, do rich units become commodities, indistinguishable on quality, the stuff of price wars? If not, on what basis are agencies choosing ad products?
All the agency execs ClickZ spoke with for this story agree rich media vendors have achieved some level of parity, at least in terms of formats offered. In some cases, they even reported little difference in the quality of those formats. Yet few would use the word "commodity." Clearly, there are still distinctions between the products. It's just those distinctions are based on service and price, not format.
"I'd say service and price efficiency are the two things they can use to differentiate," said Nick Pahade, managing director of Beyond Interactive USA. "For us, it's more quality assurance than service. How much of the audience are we reaching? Are things coded properly? As more and more of these guys offer like solutions, it comes down to operational efficiency."
Jeff Lanctot, VP of media for Avenue A / Razorfish, agrees. "Initially, each of the big players put themselves on the map by having a product that was differentiated in the marketplace," he said. "Now they all offer all the products in the market. There's not a clear reason either for a creative shop or a media agency to align themselves exclusively with one of them. What results is a real emphasis on pricing and service. That's going to continue over the next year. You're still going to see folks in our business use a lot of them, and probably negotiate them against one another to get favorable pricing."
Heidi Browning, media director for Organic, says, "Everybody's trying to own it all. We've done a ton of testing with all kinds of rich media, especially in the past year. It comes down to a best of breed mentality."
OK, so which vendors deliver the best experiences? As with everything in interactive media, the answer is "it depends." In the first part of this two-part series, we'll offer snapshots of two prominent vendors -- Eyeblaster and Eyewonder. Tomorrow, we'll continue with profiles of five more. (Companies are presented in alphabetical order.)
Eyeblaster has drawn some unwanted attention for the high rate of turnover among its sales and marketing staff over the last year. Despite that, the company's headcount jumped from 48 at the end of 2003 to 83 today. During 2004, campaign volume grew 60 percent, and impressions were up 181 percent.
Once a specialist in floating ads, the company has expanded to offer in-page, video and other units. Its new VideoStrip unit marks a move to capture some of the vast banner inventory likely to draw the lion's share of video spending until in-stream inventory grows. But the company has a lot of catching up to do in this area.
"We branded ourselves the out-of-banner platform," said CEO Gal Trifon. "Then we realized the inventory limitations and frequency capping [issues]. Publishers use the premium formats on their premium [pages] and don't pass them along to [the rest of their sites]."
Trifon said 80 percent of Eyeblaster's volume is now in banners. He said the company recently beefed up its investment in R&D. "Our recruitment effort is directed exclusively to products we don't yet sell."
Eyeblaster calls itself a mature video player, but it's challenged by the formidable experience of seasoned players EyeWonder and Klipmart.
Among the very first companies to market video ad products, and still exclusively doing so, Eyewonder is hobbled somewhat today by its reliance on Java. In a world where nearly every creative execution can be handled in Flash, competitors characterize Java as arcane.
However, the company benefits from a strong relationship with America Online, serving a high volume of ads within the company's instant messenger client. It also has strong ties with game publishers and ambitions toward mobile video. Director of Marketing Jason Scheidt said the company differentiates on service.
"A lot of companies are getting very savvy, and understand they have choices," he said. "The [vendors] that don't provide good service are going to be in a world of hurt by the end of the year."
In part two of this story, ClickZ Features looks at Klipmart, DART Motif, Pointroll, United Virtualities and Unicast.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
March 19, 2014