Desktop Product Placement

It’s proving to be an exciting month for Internet media buyers. First, Google surprised everyone by announcing it may offer banners and other IAB-approved formats in its AdSense advertising network. Now WhenU, the desktop application company known for its pop-up ads, has announced a new ad unit.

WhenU’s ad system allows media buyers to submit their creative to WhenU, which in turn delivers the ads to Internet users while they’re visiting competitors’ sites or any other site that might attract the target market. As with all contextual advertising and adware companies, WhenU’s methods have provoked strong opinions from consumers and marketers alike (and more recently, from search engines). Equally controversial has been the company’s excessive use of pop-up advertising.

The Desktop Product Placement format could change all of that.

If a pop-under and a floating ad were to mate, WhenU’s new unit is the likely result. Like floating ads, the Desktop Product Placement format can take virtually any shape or form. It doesn’t require a new Web browser window as it doesn’t appear on a Web page. It launches directly to the user’s desktop, where it remains for the surfer to encounter once all browser windows are closed. The unit is delivered via the same targeting system the company has used in the past. It uses the sites, page content, and searches associated with each user to identify that user’s interests and deliver a targeted ad.

At first glance, WhenU seems to be disassociating itself from the format that sparked litigation and put it on the map. According to CEO Avi Naider, the new desktop format is simply a response to advertisers’ requests.

“A lot of people associate WhenU with pop-ups, but some advertisers have shown concern [about the format]. Branded advertisers were requesting something different,” says Naider. He notes about 10 brand advertisers, including Panasonic and The Biography Channel, are using the unit so far. “We wanted to offer advertisers something that is exciting, unique to them and to their brand, that would allow them to use our software without having to use pop-ups.”

Aside from not popping up, a benefit unto itself, the Desktop Product Placement unit boasts some notable advantages over similar formats. According to Naider, the ads offer considerable creative design flexibility. Advertisers who don’t want to outsource creative can submit a simple animated JPEG. Those well versed in rich media can incorporate Flash, streaming video, even sound (WhenU requires all sound be user initiated).

Panasonic is running creative to promote its “Talking Caller ID.” The ad appears on user desktops in the shape of a mobile phone and links to an audio demonstration of the feature.

Although WhenU can’t disclose results of specific advertiser campaigns, Naider says preliminary numbers indicate the unit is generating double the average response rate. That alone is enough to make you wonder whether the company may consider ditching pop-ups altogether. When asked whether the new format could ultimately replace its much-reviled predecessor, Naider stated, “We will offer whatever the market wants.”

At the moment, the market seems to want desktop advertising… and desktop marketing applications and desktop search tools. That’s all well and good. But will our pristine PC desktops one day be as cluttered with ads as the Web is?

What do you think of WhenU’s new ad unit and the latest trend toward desktop marketing? Send me your comments.

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