Advertising Without Borders

Fledgling interactive media buyers are bombarded with ad unit guidelines that are sure to seem foreign at first: 728 x 90s, 88 x 31s, leaderboards, micro bars… Every unit is defined both by its dimensions and a more descriptive name. The trend reminds me of the multiple monikers gracing the streets around Detroit, all endlessly confusing for area newcomers. 16 Mile is also known as Metropolitan Parkway and Big Beaver (I kid you not), making navigating the city a challenge for everyone other than born-and-bred locals.

Once you get the lay of the land, though, nomenclature like this becomes second nature, at least in the online world. Planners strategize and buyers purchase based on the size of each media format. Ad units have defined borders. At least, they did until offerings like Rovion’s inPerson technology entered the fold.

Rovion, which helps sites feature spokespeople that “live” outside a standard streaming video screen, recently announced it’s struck a deal with publisher Advertising.com. The company’s advertising-oriented product, inPerson, is now available on a CPM (define) basis across Advertising.com’s rich media network.

ClickZ has also learned acceptance of the format by competing ad network BurstMedia is imminent. Rovion is also in talks with additional networks and portals.

Prior to this agreement, Rovion ad units were available on such properties as ABC-owned and -operated station sites, Infinity Broadcasting station sites, McClatchy newspaper sites, MediaSpan sites, and TVGuide.com. But the partnerships with AOL’s Advertising.com and Burst — two of the largest online ad networks in the industry — make the technology a viable option for a good many more interactive marketers.

InPerson allows advertisers to run :20 video clips of spokespeople, actors, celebrities, and the like. The characters appear to seamlessly integrate with site-page content and engage visitors by directly addressing them.

According to Len Ostroff, CEO of Rovion, his company helps advertisers with the production of their videos, if requested. “We do everything from identify talent, write scripts, film, and edit for about 25 percent of our clients,” Ostroff says. Another 60 to 70 percent send in completed videos, while additional inPerson advertisers request Rovion representatives attend their video shoots in a consulting capacity.

The final result is along the lines of chef Emeril Lagasse appearing on a barnesandnoble.com page to tell you about his new cookbook. The person and the ad message are, of course, tailored to each advertiser’s needs.

Look closer at inPerson, and you’ll see it for what it really is: online advertising without borders. Pixel measurements are thrown by the wayside. And when those limitations are lifted, ad material roams free.

This isn’t the first ad technology to live outside the box. In many ways, inPerson is similar to floating ads, which have wooed advertisers for years. The difference lies in the way inPerson is typically used.

Instead of accosting Internet users with images of cars kicking up virtual dust, the technology encourages advertisers to incorporate a human element into their campaigns. And people — whether real life or fictional portrayals — personalize products and brands, engaging consumers through conversation (albeit one-sided), as opposed to circus acts.

Advertisers who employ spokespeople or recognizable characters can use inPerson to better interact with their target audience and appear more true to life. In the past, many companies have had great success with incorporating characters into campaigns even when limited to blogs, video units, and Flash banners. InPerson can take this trend to the next level.

The media planners and buyers I’ve spoken with aren’t 100 percent sold on the unit, however. Some fear the talking spokespeople have the potential to become a little hokey, and wonder whether offering the unit on so many sites will lead to overexposure and reduce its appeal.

That said, most agree there’s novelty in inPerson and are intrigued by the opportunities advertising without borders affords. Ultimately, it will be up to the advertiser to keep the message relevant and targeted and up to the publisher to cap delivery to avoid infuriating users.

If you’re new to media buying, by all means continue to learn those ad sizes. Rovion’s unit won’t change the standards we’ve come to adopt. But you can expect this form of borderless advertising to produce a bevy of interesting campaigns as buyers realize they’re no longer bound by leaderboards and video screens.

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