Do They Call It Rich Media Because It Costs So Much?

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was called hypertext, and the word was good enough for those who used the web. But as time went on, the word was not enough, and so it was that the Lord said, “Let there be underlined blue text so that those using the Internet can go from one related location to another without knowing the uniform resource locator (URL).” And so it was that hot links came to be the earliest form of interactive advertising. (Forget about kiosks for a minute, okay?)

But the hot link was not enough, and the surfer was lonely with just text. So the word was made image, and the banner was born. No longer would surfers have to suffer through squinting at underlined blue text. Now pictures would adorn the tops and sides and even bottoms of their favorite web sites.

And the Lord said, “It is good.”

But soon publishers were whispering that the banner was not good enough. That the banner was too staid and boring; that users would not come to their sites anymore because they would be put off by such uninteresting ad units and go elsewhere for content. A visitor would abandon the site for one that had bigger, better, more beautiful bells and whistles.

So publishers put out their town criers to knell the death of the banner. And then it was that awful phrase, words whose sound would make the scratching of a chalk board or the chewing of tin foil a calm retreat: “beyond the banner.”

First it was sponsorships and odd-sized creative units buttons, permanent logos, tiles on the sides of content pages, micro-sites. But soon it became something else, something more. It became ad units that could do things: move about, animate, pulse. Some you could even search in.

I’m not sure when they started calling it “rich media.” And I’m not sure who “they” are. But I think it all got started right away, while the regular ol’ banners were still ramping up as the online ad vehicle of choice rather than the more mundane (yet always and forever necessary) “hot link.” Things with the Internet, as you all know, move so fast that things can happen near-simultaneously, making a sequence of events almost indiscernible. But I think it was pretty much the way I laid it out.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, first of all, the kinds of creative units that are termed “rich media” yield exceptional results. Though news of the banner’s death has been much exaggerated, there have indeed been new and interesting ad units to come onto the scene.

I’ve seen HTML banners with pull-down menus garner ten percent click-through rates. I’ve seen Flash interstitials get 30 percent click-through rates. This in an environment where the basic banner is getting 0.5 percent to one percent average CTR.

But if you are running a campaign that may use rich media, you should be aware of a few things when negotiating with sites.

  • First and most importantly, find out if the site will accept the creative being considered. When rich media is in the mix, usually it’s a decision that is not media-driven, so you won’t be sending RFPs to sites first to find out WHAT rich media they accept and then be creating it later. Given the production lead times and QA (quality assurance) necessary for rich media creative units, creative will need to be in production at the same time you are putting together your plan.
  • Next, determine if there is a cost premium for running rich media creative against the inventory you are considering purchasing. Sometimes a site will charge you a few extra bucks for running something other than a regular old GIF 89.
  • Get all specifications that you can: file size, dimensions, everything. As sometimes there are complex programming issues in play, a wrong bit of code and your ad can be rejected and sent back into production, which in turn means lost time on the campaign.
  • Finally, give serious consideration to the cost of producing a rich media ad. Be sure that it is taken into account when you are determining ROI for your client. Seldom do planners and buyers think about the cost of creative when calculating what the cost per acquisition is for a certain campaign. Since it’s regular old banners running and advertisers have them created in bulk, it isn’t usually thought about much. But when an Enliven unit (which can be totally awesome, by the way) costs upwards of $10,000 to produce, that is a significant impact to the overall cost of a campaign.

So there you have it. There isn’t too much to the whole rich media buy, and to be sure, there is still a lot more buzz than bite when it comes to actually executing a campaign, as GIF banners still account for the majority of creative being run out there. But the coming of broadband (it is coming, right?) holds the promise of some outrageous advertising.

And the Lord said, “It is good.”

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