NYTimes.com Tries Interstitials

New York Times Digital (NYTD), the online arm of The New York Times Co. and a pioneer of online advertising formats, has rolled out an month-long interstitial campaign for Sony Pictures’ recent release, “Adaptation,” reprising an earlier experiment.

The interstitials, designed by Los Angeles-based rich media ad company FPBA, are running on NYTimes.com’s books, business, and movies sections from Nov. 27 until the end of the year. The FPBA campaign is the site’s second trial of the more intrusive format, which covers the screen for a few seconds. A one-week campaign for AT&T Wireless ran in July.

“We’re experimenting with lots of different formats,” said Jason Krebs, vice president of ad sales at NYTimes.com. “This is certainly one of them. Advertisers have certainly picked up on it.”

The move by NYTD comes as publishers are looking to add rich media capabilities into the advertising mix, and as they’re pushing the intrusiveness of ads with formats like Unicast’s Superstitials. Last month, struggling online content site Salon rolled out a program in which visitors could access a day’s worth of premium content in return for watching a four-screen “ultramercial” for Mercedes-Benz.

FPBA’s technology, called COMMFLASH, loads a commercial in the background of a Web page. When the user exits the page, FPBA serves a full-page, between-page advertisement in Flash, an animated gif or other rich media. Since there is not a need for opening a separate window, the COMMFLASH ad launches immediately, covering the screen while the next page loads for the user.

The Times’ experiment with this format comes as publishers respond to consumer aggravation with the widely-deployed pop-up format, which has been praised as effective but has also raised user ire. Both iVillage and America Online have, in recent months, banned third-party pop-up ads, citing concern for the user experience. Still, publishers are trying to push the envelope to make their inventory attractive in a difficult ad market.

COMMFLASH enables a marketer to capture the user’s attention for about six or seven seconds without interfering too much with the site experience, according to Jonathan Barsade, FPBA’s chief executive.

“It’s not an advertisement that’s outside of the browser session,” Barsade said. “It’s less aggravating.”

The FPBA interstitial promotes Sony Pictures’ new comedy, “Adaptation,” the new movie from Spike Jonze starring Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep. The ads are frequency capped, Krebs said.

NYTD has been at the forefront of experimenting with online ad campaign variations. In October 2001, the site launched “surround sessions,” where a visitor receives ads from a single advertiser during a visit. In July, it became one of the first publishers to sell time-based advertising, known as day parts, in order to capitalize on the Internet’s dominance during working hours.

Earlier this year, NYTD pronounced surround sessions a success, pointing to Dynamic Logic research that found it increased consumers’ brand awareness and purchase intent.

Krebs said using the FPBA’s COMMFLASH format is part of the site’s willingness to explore new avenues for marketers. COMMFLASH has been accepted by a number of publishers, including Forbes.com and The Wall Street Journal Online, as well as some big-name advertisers, like Microsoft and Oracle.

Barsade said COMMFLASH ads are currently running on teen site Bolt.com and TVGuide.com.

In its earlier campaign on NYTimes.com, an FPBA COMMFLASH ad pushed an AT&T Wireless promotion for a free Panasonic Versio phone. That ad ran on the site’s international, politics, and New York sections.

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