I’ve been writing this column for a few months now, and I have avoided the good-old “overview of what’s new” topic. It felt like a cop-out for some reason — something that you resort to only when you don’t have any better ideas. Well, I do have a few other topics in mind, but most of them are still just half-baked. And there’s some very exciting stuff going on out there that I feel has to be shared.
Our friends at Bluestreak continue to “kick it up a notch” (is anyone else sick to death of Emeril? Did you know he’s getting a sitcom, starting this fall? Yikes!). Rolling out a powerful third-party ad server, dubbed Ion, wasn’t enough; the company has now enhanced it with a robust analytical engine called Data Concert. Slicing and dicing data is made easy with a slick, intuitive interface. The big hype around online marketing was that marketers would be able to track the success of their campaigns accurately. The trouble has been that online campaigns generate such massive volumes of data in short periods that it’s difficult to crunch the info together into something you can both learn from and act on. Data Concert aims to change that by empowering marketers with a powerful data mining tool that is simple to use, even for nontechnical folks. Like most analytical systems, it seeks to go beyond impressions and clicks; it enables trending, tracking of branding effect, and so on.
But these guys have a unique approach to ad serving; they are perhaps the only player rooted in rich media development. They were experts at dealing with publishers from an agency perspective and tackling the difficulties of rich media serving before they developed their new system, and that just might give them a leg up.
They’ve also quietly rolled out a pop-up interstitial product that is very cool. It starts with a Magnet (Bluestreak’s name for its Java-based ads) ad unit on the content page. This could be anything from a standard banner down to a one-pixel invisible image. The primary purpose of this unit is to detect the user’s bandwidth so that the appropriately sized (in terms of kilobytes) pop-up unit can be delivered. So, for someone on a 56k or lower connection, you could deliver a pop-up that’s 30k, while someone on a digital subscriber line (DSL) connection might see one that’s up to 200k. Once that detection is complete, the Magnet can launch the pop-up in one of three ways: on page load, on a timed delay, or on exit. Content in the pop-up can be just about any format — GIF, JPEG, HTML, Flash, or BluePrints. Great stuff; check out this example.
Hot on the heals of the pop-up, the company’s also rolling out a Flash/Java hybrid that serves a Flash unexpanded ad inside of a Bluestreak Java wrapper. Just about anything can trigger the expansion — from a click to a rollover to an interactive piece. From there, it operates like a normal expanded ad, enhanced with the usual Bluestreak functionality. This product has not been officially released; look for some news next week. Oh, and here’s the kicker: All Bluestreak units, including these two new products, can run on AOL.
The superstitial is undergoing a rebranding effort as Unicast attempts to make the format known as “The Internet’s Commercial.” It’s recently rolled out version 3.1, which supports Flash version 4.0. The big difference here is that Flash 4 can use MP3 files, which means better-quality sound at lower file sizes.
The new version also offers support for up to 15 embedded form fields (until recently, if you wanted to capture opt-in user data, you had to launch a separate window to house your HTML form).
Unicast is also touting the results of a recent Harris Interactive study that compared TV spots to superstitials, with some very impressive results. It’s definitely worth a look; an executive summary can be found on the Web site.
Jules Gardner and his team at Point·Roll recently rolled out a new ad format, called Top·Roll, which features small button-sized ads from multiple advertisers that expand into bigger interactive units. It’s a great way for publishers to create some additional inventory and for advertisers to get the most out of a relatively small initial placement.
Perhaps even better yet, the company has added a timed teaser/interstitial expansion to the existing ad units. So the ad loads up, looking like a normal 468 x 60 ad unit. After a few seconds, it automatically expands and holds for a few more seconds. This allows the advertiser to grab the attention of the user and deliver a larger message and encourages the user to interact more with the unit. Of course, these ads have full Point·Roll functionality once the user begins to interact. This is an example, a modified version of a Point·Roll ad for the VHS/DVD release of Universal’s “Meet the Parents.”
One other interesting spin, particularly for advertisers who don’t have access to a Flash developer, is that you can use Point·Roll’s technology to develop ads that meet the new Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) big-unit specs. And you don’t have to give up the “explore within this ad” functionality just because it’s not Flash. The same basic effect is obtained through DHTML. Sure, you might loose some animation, and you’ve got to watch the k size, but this can make for a great shortcut. See examples here.
Point·Roll also offers a Web-based designer interface that allows developers (even nontechnical designers) to assemble the ads themselves. And since you can put HTML and Flash within the expanded panels, getting a short registration form in there is very easy. This means quick, simple rich media development.
My experience has been that iWon is one of the best publishers to work with on rich media campaigns — it’s almost always a pleasure. The site supports a wide variety of formats, the tech guys (and gals) really know what’s up, and they are not afraid to try new things.
Case in point: Where I work, one of our tech guys came running into my office the other day, describing a very cool ad unit that he saw on iWon. He went into the weather section, and a realistic shot of a personal digital assistant (PDA) popped up over the top of the content. Most of us have probably seen ads like this one so far, but here’s the kicker: It started to type text on the screen and mentioned the tech guy by name.
It makes a lot of sense. The regular users of iWon submit registration information to take a chance at winning the big prizes, so why not use that information to personalize the ads? Doing this within a GIF is obviously not very practical, but a DHTML layer, with another layer of personalized text on top of it… that definitely works. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more of this yet; it’s potentially a very powerful unit.
Naturally, there’s more exciting stuff on the horizon, but I’m out of space. I’ll have to save those items for my next article. I know you’ll be waiting eagerly… Drop me a line if you’ve got something new and exciting to share.