Boston.com Latest to Launch “Takeover” Ads

New York Times Digital’s Boston.com site became the latest member in a small-but-growing club of Web publishers willing to have animated ads briefly obstructing content on their sites.

The online component of the NYT Co.-owned Boston Globe said Thursday that it would begin selling animated ads that move across a user’s screen and which eventually shrink to a button in a corner of the Web page.

Currently, the company is running two house ads, promoting home delivery of the Globe, and Boston.com’s @Bat Insider newsletter.

The home delivery spot shows a Globe delivery truck driving across the screen, tossing newspapers. When the truck reaches the end of the Web page, the message “50% off on home delivery” appears on-screen and lingers briefly before collapsing into a button-sized box in the page’s upper corner.

The @bat Insider execution features a clothesline of red socks blowing in the breeze. A baseball spins across the page, hitting the clothesline and launching an invitation to sign up for the newsletter.

Spokespeople say the effort will eventually be used for outside advertisers.

The news makes Boston.com one of a growing number of publishers willing to sell ads that move across the entire screen. Portal Terra Lycos recently featured ads for Waltham, Mass.-based Monster.com that had the recruitment site’s Trumpasaurus mascot running around Terra Lycos. Hachette Filipacchi also hosted a similar ad for the Jamaican Tourism Board.

Alley-based United Virtualities provides the technology behind the ads, which it terms “Shoshkeles.”

Web portal iWon.com also recently began selling similar ads based on a technology it developed in-house, called iAttract. So far, Amazon.com, Nabsico and Hertz have used the ads. iWon also said it’s willing to use outside tech vendors as well.

Ask Jeeves’ Ask.com also features similar out-of-box, animated ads for Coca Cola Co., supporting the beverage maker’s new branding campaign for its flagship soft drink.

Such ads have a clear appeal to advertisers: they’re unique, they’re eye-catching, and they’re unavoidable, since they can’t be scrolled off the screen and sit “on top” of the page’s content. For that reason, there’s a good chance for publishers to capitalize on them to pull in higher CPMs than they get from the sale of 468×60 banners, or Interactive Advertising Bureau-approved larger ad sizes.

“They expand the role of online advertising to set a standard for branding and performance that moves beyond recent discussions about ad unit sizes,” said United Virtualities’ chief executive, Debra Brown. “Shoshkeles provide effective brand advertising for clients like Boston.com, while transparently flowing over Web pages.”

But with an increasing number of sites adopting the technique, there’s also a very real danger of the technology backfiring — users either “tuning out” such ads, or getting annoyed that they keep popping up.

iWon.com spokesperson Erica Bates said reaction thus far has been favorable to its iAttract ads, but in any case, Boston.com and UV are taking precautions to avoid consumer resistance. By rotating creatives and limiting exposure — users will see each ad only once over the course of a day — the companies say they hope to “preserve the Web browsing experience.”

“Shoshkeles allow us to entertain our site visitors and pursue our campaign goals for subscription sales, without sacrificing the user’s experience,” said Boston.com’s Lisa DeSisto, who is vice president and general manager of the site. “We are excited that we can offer our advertisers another vehicle for targeting their audience while providing our visitors with a fun interactive visual.”

The other publishers also say they use similar controls to ensure that viewers aren’t over-saturated by the advertising on their sites.

Ultimately, however, individual publishers can do little to limit ad saturation across the Internet at large, as more and more sites launch similar offerings. And barring IAB-style, cross-Web initiatives to limit the advertising, there would seem to be little protecting “takeover” ads from the same decline in interaction that banner ads suffered as they propagated.

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