A Lesson in Interactivity From Susan Boyle

Interactive marketers are constantly touting the benefits of interactivity in banner ads. “This isn’t television or print,” they say. “Leverage the online medium by inviting Internet users to actively participate in your display ads.”

We’ve seen this trend grow in popularity over the years, beginning with interactive games within pop-up ads. Advertisers like Orbitz and Cheap Tickets put this genre of banner on the map with their infamous banners encouraging consumers to spike a volleyball or try their hand at virtual golf. And who could forget the “Punch the Monkey” ads that proliferated to include every manner of silly animal and action?

You may have been reminded of those days when you saw the recently released banner asking you to slap Susan Boyle. You may also have found yourself asking, “What’s the point?”

When assessing the potential value of interactivity in banner ads, the best place to begin is by reviewing two primary purposes this application of rich media can serve.

Reasons for Banner Interactivity

  • Brand and product engagement. As we know, not all advertisers would name generating site traffic as their primary campaign objective. It’s often more beneficial to offer product or service information within the confines of the banner itself, particularly when ads appear on content-rich sites and social networks that users may not wish to click away from. In this case, interactive features can immediately familiarize consumers with your product. If they choose to click through, that click is more qualified and likely to convert to a sale. If they don’t click, at least they’ve already learned nearly as much about your product as they would have by visiting your site.

  • Banner engagement. This approach is designed for companies that, in contrast, place a great deal of importance on site visits. They may be trying to generate online contest entries, pad their e-mail lists, or promote a collection of products, services, and special offers too numerous to be showcased within a single display ad. The value of interactivity for these companies, then, lies in the ability to engage users not with a brand or product, but with the activity offered by the banner itself. Gaming banners, for example, entice consumers to click by offering the promise of more games on the advertiser’s site, where — often unbeknownst to them — they’ll also find plenty of items for purchase.

Clearly, most legitimate advertisers would select the former tactic. In addition to the obvious advantages of offering product information and brand attributes within an ad, such interactive banners don’t employ bait-and-switch or deception tactics to lure customers in. It’s interesting to note, however, that the newest interactive banners — and those that are most memorable as standouts in this genre of banner ad — represent a hybrid of these two approaches.

Consider the series of ads recently deployed by Brazilian health club chain Companhia Athletica (Cia Athletica). Its “Exercise Your Self-Esteem” banner series, created by Brazilian ad agency DM9DDB draws on the notion of having the user influence the action within the ad. But the interactivity in its banners relates directly to the brand by displaying its value proposition in different ways.

Naturally, Companhia Athletica’s ads maintain a gym theme. In one banner, the user must use her mouse to drag a Lat Pulldown bar to the bottom of the ad unit. Each time the bar makes its way down, the average-looking man demonstrating the exercise is replaced with his fit and self-confident alter ego. In a second ad, the user clicks his spacebar to make the same character jump on a trampoline. When his jumps reach a certain level, he is again replaced by a superior version of himself (as a gymnast, a player for the Bulls, and finally, Superman).

In these examples interactivity serves a real purpose, as opposed to engaging the user in an action that is irrelevant to the advertiser’s brand. Potential customers choose to involve themselves in the ad, and are rewarded with an outcome that both informs and entertains. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Before incorporating interactivity into your client’s ads, quiz your strategy and creative teams about their motivation. Are they simply acting on the adage that banner interactivity is good? Do the features and actions that play out within the ad unit reflect the product and brand, or engage the user and leave them cold? Interaction is important, but surely rich media can be put to better use than to drive unqualified clicks.

Just ask Susan Boyle.

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