Ad Format Wanted

One of the dirty little secrets of this business is that most web advertising isn’t compelling.

I got a firsthand view of that during the spring’s @d:tech show. Winners were displayed during an awards banquet. A logo won several awards. I found that LOL (laugh out loud) funny, and as the evening wore on, the joke just became funnier.

To the people giving and accepting the awards, of course, it wasn’t funny at all. These people worked hard, they’d earned some respect, and this bozo in a hat was cackling hysterically.

The fact remains, however, that banners don’t deliver a lot of emotional oomph. The click-through rates on banners aren’t really much different than those on text links in emails. It’s hard to be creative in a 20K format.

Unicast has tried to raise the creativity bar with its SUPERSTITIAL format. The ads look more like TV ads, but they really make web advertising a subset of TV the same skill sets, the same buzzwords, and the same metrics are used.

Last week RealMedia of the U.K. announced what it calls the “transitional ad,” created by a company called Tangozebra.

While SUPERSTITIALS can occupy any amount of screen real estate and can be clicked away, transitionals are defined by time. They’re single screens that fill the center of the page for three seconds, after which the requested page is fully displayed. (It loads in the background while the ad plays.) Click on “business” from the London Times home page, and you’ll see an example for British Airways.

The problem is, of course, that these are essentially magazine ads. They’re static, they’re branding vehicles, and they’re not very interactive.

When I sat in on Fast Forum meetings over the last few years, the most interesting thing I heard was the idea that standards should be considered in terms of download time. Six seconds sounded about right. That meant that a DSL user might get a much bigger ad than a modem user, and that the capabilities of the medium would rise with bandwidth.

I sometimes wonder if this, too, is missing the point. The Internet is interactive. It’s about getting your soul across to others and being receptive to them in turn. All the ad formats I’ve discussed today are based on pushing data they’re one-way.

What I fear is that, after five years of experiments, we still don’t “get it” regarding web advertising. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question.

It’s not: How do I make you buy my stuff? A better question might be: How do I maintain a dialogue? In other words, maybe it’s what happens after I grab your attention that should count. Right now, web ads are grabbing you by the lapels, then demanding orders. I think we need more creativity in developing and implementing dialogues.

The ad says “Click here.” It then asks “Why did you click?” When you tell it why, it listens and tries to help. The art should come in minimizing the time and energy the customer must exert to get an answer to the question he or she asked when he or she clicked on the ad.

Maybe web advertising needs less technology and more humanity.

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