Forget Ad Formats — Try a Customized Home Page

Media buyers are always on the lookout for sites offering unique forms of online advertising. We’re especially cognizant of those portals and networks willing to break away from the norm and challenge the limits of their media properties and the cheek of their advertisers. Not all sites are created equal. When it’s time for our clients to try something different and exciting, sites willing to go the extra mile will make it into our final media plans.

At the Family Education Network (FEN), attracting the attention of trail-blazing advertisers is child’s splay. The network, whose sites include FamilyEducation.com, Fact Monster, and FunBrain.com, is a haven for advertisers whose target market includes children, parents, and teachers across North America. Not only does it accept most every type of rich media advertising, from EyeBlaster ads to Unicast Superstitials, but the network takes advertising to another level, allowing advertisers freedoms few media properties allow.

Visit some of the sites within the network. You won’t the find typical home pages you’re used to. FEN has been offering something so valuable advertisers are snatching it up left and right: a customized home page. If FEN were a typical network, it’d likely insist advertisers abide by a strict set of guidelines with regard to the placement of their ads on its sites, particularly as they relate to editorial content. If an ad threatens to interfere with a menu bar or home page logo, for example, most networks draw the line. With a FEN customized home page, the idea is to amalgamate the advertiser’s brand with the site brand, meaning many of these rules are tossed right out the window.

This form of advertising goes beyond typical site page or section sponsorships, where banners, buttons, and the occasional floating ad may dominate. Few section sponsorships allow other advertisers to show their ads alongside those of the primary sponsor. On a customized home page, the sponsor’s brand is so thoroughly integrated it hardly seems like an ad at all. Other advertisers can’t effectively detract from it. The advertiser’s presence on the page comes off as a “special feature” offered by the site, particularly because customized home page programs often include games, quizzes, polls, and other interactive and entertaining content. For a network largely geared toward children, and considering the type of products that would be advertised there, this sort of ad program is a natural fit.

When Nintendo wanted to promote its Animal Crossing GameCube video game, it had FEN customize the FEKids home page, incorporating the game’s characters into the page. When a user clicks on one of the Nintendo home page ads, he’s not taken off the FEKids.com site but to another customized page featuring information about the game. There, kids play an online version then test their “Animal Crossing IQ.” The union between the advertiser’s brand and the site brand, in combination with interactive tools and features, are sure to get kids’ attention. The approach is designed to cement the advertiser in the mind of the user. According to FEN, it allows the advertiser’s audience to “build a relationship” with the characters and the brand, as well as encourages all-important “product recall.”

Advertising partnerships created by such customized home pages don’t damage the network, either. While the advertiser achieves the desired branding effect, the sites on which ads appear gain a reputation for progressive and engaging content that provides added value to the visitor. This is likely to result in repeat visits and loyalty.

These creative home pages are growing in popularity for FEN. It’s been employed by major brands, including Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Jolly Rancher Fruit Chews. Both had FEN create “customized game arcade home pages,” including customized games for their online campaigns. Most home pages are live for a week to a month and backed by other ad formats running throughout appropriate FEN sites.

You’ve seen statistics about the decreasing effectiveness of standard advertising methods such as banners and email. This dynamic approach is still novel enough to grab a user’s attention — especially that of a youthful audience. If you’ve got a client catering to kids, give customized home pages a try. What better way to increase awareness and support of a brand than by showing kids a good time?

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