Interactivity With a Mission

All online marketers know the importance of creating interactive ads. The ability to engage consumers and encourage interaction with an ad is something few other marketing mediums can boast, so we’d better take advantage of it online.

Often, though, banners are made interactive simply for the sake of being interactive. There’s no real purpose or substance to the ads. Advertisers incorporate features such as games thinking they’ve met interactivity requirements. Yet most have little relation to the company’s service offering.

This view of interactivity seems a wasted opportunity. No brand has so little to offer in the way of value that its assets can’t be leveraged in an interactive ad. Add to this the fact creative that doesn’t engage stymies even the most strategic media buy, and marketers should have a strong incentive to revisit their interactive creative.

One way interactive banners are best employed is by incorporating product information and features that allow users to experience all that our clients’ brands have to offer. This can be done by creating “nano sites,” which don’t require a user to leave a property to learn more about the product.

This approach to banner design was top of mind at my agency when we were tasked with developing online creative for the recent launch of the Audi Q7, a new luxury SUV. The idea was to incorporate functionality into the ads, which were built on Flash and video technology.

Expandable banners can be rolled over to reveal information about the vehicle’s key attributes or to allow users to link to a dealer locator, request a quote, or download a brochure. Synched banners, in which users can roll over a skyscraper ad to trigger a change in the leaderboard on the same site page, give users a chance to zoom in to various features of the car and click on hotspots to reveal more information.

The ads also help prequalify visitors. Those who click through for more information represent a true quality visit.

“The biggest creative challenge was that this is a brand-new vehicle segment for Audi. We needed to tell the vehicle’s story and build awareness,” says Bethany Verrill, online marketing manager at Audi of America. “The interactive banners engage and educate the customer with a sneak peek into the product qualities and features of the vehicle.”

The banners, with their various features and tools, were carefully matched to the sites on which they were placed. Those that allow consumers to request a quote were sent to automotive in-market sites such as Edmunds and Autobytel, where consumers are already researching a potential buy and are further down the purchasing funnel. Lifestyle sites like Concierge.com and financial sites like CNNMoney.com are featuring banners that inform consumers of the launch and differentiating factors associated with the vehicle.

“The media buys were made on some pretty intellectual-content-minded sites,” Verrill adds. “It was intriguing to us that a customer could pre-shop and learn about the car before even engaging with the manufacturer’s Web site.”

This sort of interactivity isn’t limited to automotive manufacturers; another example comes from rich media developer Klipmart, which in conjunction with agency 65media has launched interactive ad units to promote the upcoming comedy, “You, Me and Dupree.” The ads feature exclusive short videos of the film’s main character, portrayed by actor Owen Wilson. Klipmart says they “communicate the spirit of the movie.” They also allow Internet users to familiarize themselves with the film’s premise and quirky cast, whetting their appetite for the full-length feature — all without requiring them to leave the site on which the ads appear.

If you see the value in valuable interactive but are racking your brain to come up with something to include in a banner, look to your Web site. Although some interactive features are created specifically for ads, most are leveraged from the advertiser’s existing materials. Review your site objectively to determine which features you wish to promote. Consult your logs to assess the most popular tools. Most often, these will make the best interactive banner ad.

Though I see the appeal of some interactive games (they can garner high interaction rates and help improve brand awareness), most don’t take full advantage of this medium. A consumer can’t be converted into a loyal customer by entertainment alone. Engage and educate that consumer while providing a fluid surfing experience, and you’ve got interactivity with purpose.

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