Are You Experienced?

One commonly recognized benefit of rich media and video advertising is it allows us to take preexisting, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defined ad inventory and simply make it better: better looking, better functioning, and better performing. It provides advertisers with the opportunity to deliver information directly to consumers wherever they may be, oftentimes negating the necessity to visit a Web site.

But as rich media and video ads permeate publisher Web sites and content delivery systems, consumers are learning to look the other way. Avoidance tactics are becoming second nature for today’s media- and tech-savvy consumer. In many cases, engagement metrics are replacing click-through metrics in an effort to not only more accurately measure performance but also compensate for the decreased ability to drive consumers to a Web site via an in-page ad. Average CTRs (define) are abysmal. As advertisers, how do we compensate for that?

The answer is to use the two greatest tools we have at our disposal: rich media and video. And not necessarily in the ways you might think.

This may sound like a radical thought, but we must stop thinking about online media simply in terms of inventory, avails, and CPMs (define). If you’ve been working in this medium long enough, you may remember a mantra from the late ’90s/early ’00s: “think beyond the banner.” We were being asked to physically go beyond the banner, which meant floating ads, expandable ads, and anything else that broke out of the confines of IAB-defined ad sizes.

We have to do it again. Our need to shoehorn ad concepts into sizes consumers are already ignoring saps online advertising’s creative energy. Though these ad sizes are a necessity for any media plan, the true cornerstone of an online media strategy must be something that brings audiences closer to the product, brand, or property. The only way for that to be effective is by providing an experience audiences actually want to participate in.

The emergence of social media has given marketers the greatest gift possible: a way to inject our brand personality into the voice and actions of consumers. We must restrain ourselves from thinking about what kinds of ads will elicit a certain behavior from consumers. In its stead, we must start thinking about existing consumer behaviors.

Ads on social networks like MySpace.com add to the clutter. Promotions that ask audiences to participate in a way that’s rewarding from both experience and material perspectives break through and reinforce an emotional bond.

Pre-roll video ads in front of user-created content subtract from the user experience by making consumers wait for content they elected to view on demand. Broadband video has taken off because broadband speeds have accelerated to the point that consumers must no longer wait for content. Why make them wait to get it and ruin the natural good will by placing pre-roll advertising in front of content that may or may not even be worth watching? Let the content disappoint, not the advertising.

Social media is all about the experience consumers, create for themselves, including photo-sharing, video-sharing, blog-posting, and commenting. Advertisers must find ways to create engaging platforms for sharing, communicating, and participating. Rich media and video are the perfect tools for the job.

Creating unique experiences with animation, interactivity, two-way flows of information, and personalities audiences can relate to (or even just recognize) can envelop audiences and create emotional resonance. These experiences can and should live where audiences already are rather than on an external promotional Web site. This means publishers must be able to provide these experiences. Salespeople need to be as creative as marketers if they expect to keep pace with the medium’s rapid evolution.

Taking such a departure from standard ad inventory may seem risky for many advertisers, especially direct response. It introduces a whole new set of metrics. But my hunch is the end result will be a more involved consumer who will be willing to go to bat for your brand and be responsible for many more conversions rather than just a lemming that follows the ad off a cliff and into its own, singular conversion.

Audiences are rapidly controlling their media consumption paths and guiding the paths of others. If we can create advertising experiences that live within those paths rather than just plant blinking signs on the side of the road, we’ll be able to earn and retain customers rather than just attempt to distract them.

Call it an early new year’s resolution, but I vow to continue to bring my clients more robust, rich advertising experiences to give them more bang for their buck.

Will you?

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