Marketers Welcome Widgets to the Party

The concept may be as old as rich media itself, but widgets are widely considered to be the newest craze in online advertising and publishing. Designed to dynamically deliver select content to Internet users, these site tools focus on providing consumers with control over information — just like expandable rich media banner ads.

The newest example of a widget has much in common with this ad format, and it provides advertisers with a fresh way to reach their target audience on the Web.

A few weeks ago, newspaper behemoth Gannett Company Inc. launched Nimbus, a weather widget currently being featured on eight of its newspaper and broadcast media properties, including the

Gannett worked with PointRoll, which it acquired in 2005, to develop the ad, tapping the rich media company’s expertise in expandable banners. “Our core competency has always been pulling content into a product,” says PointRoll SVP of business operations and strategy Jason Tafler. “We worked with one of Gannett’s weather providers to dynamically pull in radar and satellite information based on user Zip Code and made the widget expandable to offer other great opportunities.”

Those opportunities include third-party advertising. The Nimbus widget features a banner ad placement, as well as the ability to create condition-triggered ad messages and other customization that can be used by either the site publisher or the ad marketer. Search for a weather update in chilly Barrow, AK, or sunny Naples, FL, to see the technology in action; the Nimbus character’s appearance reflects the weather conditions associated with each location.

Theoretically, such customization options could be used with a banner ad to further brand a product or service. And because banner impressions are delivered through the sites’ own ad servers, creative can be uploaded quickly. Based on the current widget model, there’s nothing to stop a home insurance advertiser from launching a targeted campaign just prior to a major storm system passing through or an apparel company from branding the Nimbus character’s scarf with its logo.

There are currently four advertisers participating in Gannett’s inaugural widget trial, after which the company will determine how best to work with publisher partners (both Gannett and PointRoll hint a network model or affiliate program might be in the cards) and how to approach selling the widget ads. To accompany the Nimbus, Gannett has launched an advertiser Web site offering detailed information about the concept. Banners are being sold on a CPM (define) basis.

“The product is a metaphor for other widget iterations,” says Kerry Oslund, digital director with Gannett’s broadcast division. “It was built to accommodate other sorts of widgets in the future where we can take any content we have, skin it creatively, deliver it in different ways, and report and measure on the results.”

If the fact the largest newspaper chain in the country is getting involved with widgets isn’t enough to convince you this is an up-and-coming trend, look to the surreptitious buzz about Google’s own version of this format. Though it isn’t saying much yet, Google does report it’s “currently testing Google Gadget Ads to provide advertisers additional opportunities to interact with audiences online.” Marketers, Google says, will be able to place their own widgets on pages throughout Google’s content network, and they’ll be delivered through the Google AdWords platform.

Welcome, widgets. We marketers can’t wait to see what you can do.

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Vector graphic of a megaphone spewing out business themed items, such as a laptop, tablet, pen, @ symbol and smartphone