Between A Rock And A Hard Place

The online advertising industry is at a critical point in its growth right now. We’ve reached a point in time where the effectiveness of “traditional” banner advertising is at an all time low. We’ve also reached a point where marketers who are just getting into online marketing are experiencing a poor ROI during their first tests with the medium.

All of us who have used the Internet as an effective marketing vehicle are assuming that the new marketers who are turning to the Internet will be loyal devotees of the medium, just as we are. With response rates as low as they are on GIF ads, I’m not so sure we should be so complacent. In fact, if we want to watch the medium continue to grow at this rate, we really need to fulfill the expectations of today’s online user.

Ads can no longer rely on simple animation and the standard “click here” call to action to appeal to prospects. Internet users now expect more from advertising–either a more detailed message than what can normally appear in a GIF banner, or something that’s more interactive than the usual click to a web site.

Problem is, many online advertisers are having difficulty staying on top of the latest tools to make ads more detailed and interactive. And when they do find a new technology that can deliver what they’re looking for, technical issues can make the whole effort more trouble than it is worth. So what can interactive advertisers do when they’re stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place?

To answer this question, I think we need to make a couple of assumptions about current online advertisers:

  1. They want to make their ads present a more detailed message.
  2. They want to make their ads more interactive.
  3. They are worried about the current trend in response rates for GIF banners.
  4. They are equally worried about production, media and technology costs for “taking it to the next level.”

From this standpoint, a good solution to this problem would be to establish some sort of educational process for online marketers who are new to rich media. Such an education would prevent the “re-inventing the wheel” syndrome so common to the learning experience.

Thankfully, someone has already established such a process for understanding various rich media formats. His name is Bill McCloskey, and he’s the chairman of the newly established Rich Media SIG (Special Interest Group). The group currently has two chapters–one in New York and the other in San Francisco; other chapters are on the way. The SIG meets at least once a month for the express purpose of exploring the capabilities, successes and pitfalls of rich media. Check it out at

At the last meeting of the New York SIG, myself and several other media buying folks presented case studies to demonstrate the capabilities of various rich media formats. I presented Enliven, while others presented formats like BlueStreak and the Comet Cursor. Not only did we present the successes achieved with these formats, but also their overall strengths and weaknesses. I’d like to think that the presentation of unbiased case studies could help to speed the adoption of new rich media tools.

But what I really enjoyed about hearing the other presentations at the SIG was that the formats were truly presented as tools that allow for creativity. Other rich media groups that I’ve met with have been focused more on standardization than anything else–a notion that doesn’t appeal to my conception of what rich media is all about.

In any case, it’s up to us (the media planners) to help newcomers to the Internet marketing space to adopt new ways of advertising. Rich media vendors tend to approach us first with any new formats that come out. And it takes someone who is focused on ROI to truly prove to the advertising world that these rich media tools can be used to produce success.

I would recommend to any online planners in New York or San Francisco that they get involved with the Rich Media SIG in some way. If you are experienced in leveraging the strengths of rich media, maybe you can help point out some of the pitfalls to some of the less experienced online marketers. And if you’re just getting into rich media, your presence might help you to avoid investing significant time and money into re-inventing the wheel.

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