Three out of four Internet users connect to the Web via non-browser applications, a Nielsen/NetRatings report from late last year found. That amounts to 106 million people, a vast audience and one still largely untapped by marketers. While the mere mention of desktop ads quickly raises the hackles of privacy advocates (who associate them with companies that monitor surfing habits), the truth is some of these applications inspire great loyalty among users.
Take AWS Technologies' WeatherBug application. WeatherBug's weather data is provided to Web users through back-end relationships with schools across the U.S., schools where AWS sets up "WeatherNet Classroom" centers to give kids hands-on meteorological experience. The program's been such a hit that the National State Boards of Education recognized the company's CEO with its top award. Now there's a strong brand.
Andy Jedynak, WeatherBug's VP of business development, is effusive when it comes to desktop advertising. Jedynak is pushing several innovative ad formats intended to increase acceptance among its 32 million active users while boosting effectiveness for advertisers. In a recent interview with ClickZ, he talked about some of them.
Q.Desktop advertising appears to be growing steadily. What are the current trends in marketing on the desktop?
A.It's beginning to be more popular to advertise on the desktop because people's habits and expectations for how they get information online are changing. Internet applications are much faster than a Web site, [their content] much more convenient and readily accessible. The Web site is slowly being superceded by the application, and because of this it's going to be more important for advertisers to use this channel.
Smart advertisers are going to look closely at their choices in the application space. Applications have been underutilized by advertisers. It's a comfort thing, but the Internet application space is growing up, just as the Web space did in the late nineties.
It's an exciting time; the way people access the Internet is absolutely changing. Four years ago we made the rather large decision of not offering our application through a Web site. We absolutely don't regret it.
Q.Your format innovations have met with considerable acclaim and market success.
A.There are two unique formats that are gaining popularity with advertisers. One is the Brandwrap, where advertisers' [creative] takes over the entire surface of the WeatherBug app. It's impossible to miss; the content itself is integrated into the ad.
The second is Sponsor Select, in which we ask our WeatherBug users to go ahead and select a sponsor. We thought it made sense to go to the next step and give them control over the ads they see. Sponsor Select turns the whole interactive advertising paradigm on its ear.
Users are completely in control of where they go and how much time they spend on any Web site. One thing they [usually] don't have control over is the sponsor who supports their experience. We took that step.
People understand. They know they're getting these services for free, and we've found people love to choose their own sponsor. If someone chooses you as an advertiser, they're far more likely to convert and buy. A desktop environment gives advertisers the flexibility to do this.
Q.What about targeting ads based on registration information?
A.Yes. There's a high hurdle for applications to get new customers. A user has to go to the trouble of downloading, and people are reluctant to fill out registration info. WeatherBug asks people to provide their name, income, zip code, occupation, all these things that are really valuable to an advertiser's plans.
An advertiser can target, for example, 18- to 54-year-old women with a $50,000 or greater household income. If we can do that for advertisers, the waste is zero and the effectiveness of the ad goes way up.
As Internet applications proliferate, there will be more registration-based targeting available to advertisers. Eighty percent of our campaigns are now targeted by demographic. Initially it was a much smaller number.
Q.What is desktop advertising's essential value proposition for media buyers?
A.One of the proven tenets of Internet advertising and advertising in general is the more loyalty a viewer has to a property, the more effective advertising will be on that property.
Internet applications have created a direct relationship with users. The loyalty transfers to any advertising placed there. A lot of users choose to have the applications open automatically when they boot their computer, a great thing for any advertiser in line to get an impression with someone at the beginning of the day.
Q.How are you addressing legal and privacy concerns over desktop advertising?
A.We're very much against anything that would shadow anyone as they surf. We made the decision a long time ago that we weren't going to be tracking surfing habits; we think that's the right approach.
Back in 1995, when Web sites were starting to get big and the whole dot-com era was beginning to boom, everyone was worried about cookies, so Web sites then were very careful about how they used them. That fervor has died down, but part of being the leading edge is you have to worry about things like that.
Now, with applications, people have the same kinds of questions. There are a lot of people who are concerned about how they're monitored. Very soon more people will access the Web via an application than via a browser. As an industry, we need to be careful people don't perceive us as less than totally up-and-up. It's important that the big players in the Internet application space take a leading role in acting on behalf of the consumers who support our products. By extension, the consumers who use Internet apps will then perceive the advertisers who support the applications in a more positive light.
One of the things I do is go around the country and talk to people in consumer privacy groups. It's surprising how many traditional businesses don't understand there's a higher standard for privacy online than there is offline.
Q.Have you experimented with mobile distribution and advertising?
A.We were an early player in this space, which we entered three years ago. We're the principal provider of weather on Nextel phones.
As more and more advertisers decide reaching people on their PDAs and cell phones makes sense, we'll certainly be there with solutions to do that. Technology drives choice and choice drives change, and more people are now accessing the Internet with devices other than their personal computer. You just have to go where people are.
Q.Describe a typical day in the life of Andy Jedynak.
A.I usually leave before my wife and three boys are up, when it's still dark. The first thing I do is sit down with my notebook, check off the things I did yesterday and start a list of what's important to do today. I try to do them in a sequence of importance. I spend a lot of time talking to the folks in various departments at WeatherBug, and the day flies along. I do my best to get out for lunch, and admittedly don't do it enough. A great day is when I get home early enough to put my boys to bed.
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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