Don’t Shoot the Messenger

In last week’s piece about McDonald’s, I cited the company’s involvement with 24/7 Real Media’s direct-to-desktop product, 24/7 Messenger. For those unfamiliar with the concept behind the tool that wooed the fast-food giant, the foundation lies in push technology.

Push technology is perhaps best understood when compared to pull technology, the system in place on the Web. When an Internet user goes online, his browser requests information from the server that stores the Web site content. It “pulls” the information. In push technology, information is delivered without specifically being requested. Consumers may voluntarily download software such as that offered by 24/7, but the content they’re delivered isn’t something coming by request (email is the most widely recognized form of push technology).

There’s a growing interest in such technology among media buyers challenged to attract consumer attention. As my colleague James Hering points out in a recent column, over the last few years spam has greatly reduced the efficiency of email marketing, once the interactive media buyer’s ace in the hole. Many buyers have been forced to reallocate entire email budgets. They aren’t sure where to turn.

The 24/7 Messenger application seems poised to engulf the interactive advertising market and fill the gap left by email. For $30,000 to $90,000 per year, marketers can quickly regain access to their target audience via a downloadable desktop application that delivers customized information to users. Seems like an ideal answer to everyone’s needs. Question is, will consumers bite?

It’s no secret Internet users have grown wary of anything obtained via download. Past experiences with adware programs often acquired unknowingly, as a result of bundled software offerings, have left them aggrieved. Many of these programs can’t easily be removed from the system. Will that leave users less than assured other downloads won’t deliver a similarly maddening experience?

According to 24/7 Real Media, which has quietly offered the Messenger product for about seven years, consumer insecurity hasn’t really been an issue. “[Each application] is customized for each specific client that operates it, so there is a brand affiliation,” says Ari Bluman, VP of direct solutions at 24/7 Real Media. “All of the information and advantages offered are based on each client that uses the Messenger, and there are no hidden agendas.”

That the applications are usually offered to consumers via a client-branded splash page built by 24/7 Real Media can also help put consumers’ minds at ease. Just as a placement purchased on a branded site with a loyal audience can put an advertiser at a greater advantage to attract positive attention, direct association of the application with the client’s trusted brand means participation never feels “forced.”

Another aspect of the application that could keep consumers appeased is the fact 24/7 Messenger is rarely used merely as a sales tool. The product wasn’t designed to be just another vehicle via which advertisers can push their products and services on Internet users. Its real worth lies in its ability to offer direct and continuous access to audiences without the likelihood of online distractions.

24/7 Real Media views the product as a CRM and branding tool, a channel through which businesses can build and maintain relationships with customers. So do its clients. McDonald’s customized the application to provide its European audience with access to news and exclusive information about the FIFA World Cup 2002 Games (of which it was a major sponsor). NBC’s version delivered summaries of the network’s popular TV shows, along with information on special contests and promotions available to Messenger users.

Booksonline also used the Messenger application. Its objective was to keep its Mystery Guild book club members abreast of upcoming book releases. But it also used the tool to poll club members and offer discounts to drive sales. As an incentive to download the application, Booksonline offered members a free book.

Direct-to-desktop applications such as 24/7 Messenger aren’t likely to replace email as the most popular brand of push technology, but the channel could well see a usage surge in months and years to come. Buyers need only remember the key to a successful program is branding, placement, and presentation.

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