Does Rich Media Kill The Direct Response Goose?

In a ClickZ article late last year, I discussed the elements that effective direct response banner creative must have. I also pointed out those elements that should be avoided.

In that article, I also took a firm stand on rich media as the enemy of direct response. In my experience, rich media may spike click-throughs. But it doesn’t help conversions a bit. The “gee whiz” crowd sees fit to click through your way-cool banner but then splits without performing the key action you’re seeking.

In other words, rich media can end up actually working against your main objective of getting the desired direct response.

Well, I got some feedback from that article. Some readers said I had rocks in my head. Other (less critical) readers thought I had pebbles in my head. One especially harsh individual even claimed I had a boulder in here! But sadly (for me, anyway) nobody remarked what terrific, high-level thinking led to that assertion!

This got me to thinking a little more about how rich media does affect response. Does it always work against it?

The answer is yes. And no. And ultimately it doesn’t matter.

What I mean is, it could be any one of these answers, depending on how you buy your media. And depending, too, on what kind of response you want. There is a distinct difference in how rich media affects the success of your media campaign. Just consider what behavior rich banners elicit, and what it means about the way you’re paying for the media:

  • CPM (Cost per thousand): If you’re paying for your media by the thousands of eyeballs, then you’re giving yourself every advantage by using rich media. Chances are, if you’re buying media on a CPM basis, you’re looking primarily to brand yourself online. Rich media is very engaging and works better and harder at branding than do static or HTML banners. Bonus: You’ll get a lot more people clicking through it to get to your site, too. And if you sell on your site, the conversion rate versus number of impressions will likely improve.
  • CPC (Cost per click): Here, the opposite of the above scenario may or may not be true. If you’re buying on a CPC basis, your objective is to get people to merely come to your site (in which case you’re in great shape with rich media, since it definitely spikes click-through). Or your objective is to get people to not only come to your site, but to purchase a product or register for your service (in which case you’re completely hosed with rich media, because invariably you’ll pay way more for increased CTR without the benefit of a high percentage of serious inquiries — the “gee whiz” factor at work). The relational cost of the sale/enrollment goes way up. In this case, stick with simpler (but still sharp) banners that use clear qualifying language to hook serious inquiries rather than “gee whiz” tire kickers.
  • CPA (Cost per action, lead, enrollment, sale, and so on): Here’s where it doesn’t matter what you use sort of. Buying on this basis, you’re looking for one thing and one thing only: You are looking to move product. Branding doesn’t matter a whit. You’re paying strictly on the success of your program. If you use rich media here, you’re definitely doing enabled sites a favor, since they will likely get more dollars out of the same number of impressions with a rich banner than with a static or HTML banner. But it will cost more of your non-media advertising budget to produce. And strategically, the best way to justify that expense is by having a secondary objective of branding, as well — toward which rich banners will work quite well. As a result, pay-out justification is more subjective: You’ll have to be a smooth talker for upper management to buy into it.

So again I tell you: rich media is the enemy of direct response — given the right circumstances. Use it judiciously, and understand clearly the risks and rewards involved.

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