Debunking the Myths

With any new technology, myths evolve around the lack of education, and rich media is no exception. Rich media also suffers from some big myths. Common misconceptions include, “Rich media is too slow, it crashes browsers, and it won’t happen until everyone has broadband.”

Too often, the issue is clouded by technology voodoo, whereas answers can be very simple with a bit of education. In many cases, the confusion about rich media has valid roots and concerns, but the fog that envelops these concerns needs to be removed. Let’s debunk some of the myths.

Rich Media Is Too Expensive

Last week, this myth got full attention in this column. Based on empirical evidence that I have seen with all of Freestyle’s clients over three years, clients can expect to double the effectiveness of their rich media campaigns, in essence doubling the value of their media dollars. (Thanks for all the reader feedback on this interesting subject.)

You Need Broadband for Rich Media

This myth implies that it is impossible to create rich media in small file sizes. This simply is not true, and I can point to dozens of examples of Java, Flash, HTML, DHTML and other rich media formats that are 12k or under that work well on even the slowest of modem connections. This myth is based on the fact that some rich media ad files are too big, often a result of poorly designed and planned campaigns. A few mistakes by agencies exploring rich media in its developing stage doesn’t mean that amazing solutions don’t exist for slower speed connections.

Many people think that rich media has to be based on video/audio streaming, which currently is hard to do for slow connections (although audio is arguably possible now even on very slow connections if you sacrifice some quality). Rich media does not stop with video or audio, however. Agencies should be challenged to think of rich media outside of the audio/video box and think more in terms of interactively engaging the user. Interaction or experience with a brand can be achieved without megabytes of streaming content.

Rich Media Doesn’t Work in All Browsers

Again, this myth is based on truth; however, most of the web sites out there also don’t work in all browsers by the designers’ choice to exclude older browsers. Looking at a dozen or so e-commerce based web sites, many are completely dropping support of 3.0 browsers. I’m guessing that looking because they see on a case-by-case basis that pre 4.0-browser share is just an acceptable loss, looking at their traffic numbers.

In any case, I would say the myth should be reversed here and translated as “Rich media works in almost all browsers.” Both Java (which many rich media tools are based on) and Flash have high browser penetration, roughly 90 percent in both cases. Both Flash and Java are included with the default distributions of common web browsers as well.

Sites Don’t Accept Rich Media

I wish that 100 percent of all sites accepted rich media; unfortunately, some sites are behind the times. The options open to advertisers are very wide when it comes to rich media. It is possible to hit all the major demographic areas with multi-million dollar campaigns leading with rich media creative.

In addition, as clients see that rich media is working harder and more effectively for them, they will vote with their dollars on sites that support rich media. If I was running a site, and selling ad space was a goal of mine, I would be bending over backward to support rich media ads and sponsorships, as well as trying to find out how else I could make my inventory more exciting to purchasers. I have personally witnessed sites losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars when they couldn’t support rich media when their competitor across the street offered to support rich media. The best solution here is for media buyers and planners to vote with their dollars.

That Idea Can’t Be Done

Amazing ideas often seem impossible to implement. While some ideas are impractical, I would say that most ideas imagined could be pulled off. Some of the rich media tools out there may not be enough to create the idea at hand, but there are ways around these tools by using the right expertise.

A layperson might view a large block of stone as just that. A sculptor will see art in that stone. With the expertise, tools, and a vision of what the stone can become, the sculptor will create a work of art.

With interactive advertising, the raw materials we all have to work with are made up of a bit-mapped screen, a CPU, some RAM, and an operating system. For decades, software engineers have mastered this raw material, building computer tools such as word processors, email applications, video games, and other amazing software. This technical expertise needs to be incorporated into the ground floor of online advertising. To be creating innovative rich media campaigns online without mastery of the medium is simply beating on a stone block with a stick.

***ClickZ apologizes for the errors in my last column, “Animated GIFs: More Expensive Than Rich Media?” The figures in the tables showing production costs for animated gifs vs. rich media were inadvertently reversed in the rich media track newsletters. However, the entire article was correct on the site.

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