Packaged Online Branding Solutions

Many brand advertisers are telling publishers (as I wrote in my last column), “Give me marketing solutions, not just impressions.” Impressions don’t build brands, good campaigns do. Smart publishers are rising to the challenge: packaging ads, technology, and audiences in ways that address the branding objectives of their clients.

The creation of branding products is one of the most important recent advances in the online advertising industry. More and more, it seems successful publishers package their products in ways that are compelling to brand advertisers. Here are some approaches that seem to be working.

Audience packaging. When making a large investment on a site, you don’t want your impressions dumped in the wee hours of the night or piled onto a small number of heavy site users. Frequency caps can help regulate ad rotation, but often they can run counter to branding objectives. Some publishers are finding success in packaging their audiences in ways that better address advertisers’ needs.

One good example that’s been received well by advertisers is the surround session, created by the New York Times. Surround sessions offer advertisers the chance to deliver ads to subscribers on four consecutive pages within one visit. Surround sessions aren’t rocket science, technically speaking, but they do allow advertisers the ability to test a new way of delivering messages online and ensure branding ads get noticed.

Time-of-day packaging. The Online Publishers Association recently released a report showing the Internet is the primary medium for millions during working hours. People use the Internet differently at different parts of the day and week. Why not offer different solutions for advertisers at different dayparts?

Some sites do. In one of the longest-running engagements of this type, Budweiser takes over CBS MarketWatch on Friday afternoons, when many visitors start to hanker for a beer. Bud’s “After Hours” campaign runs during periods when people are more likely to drink beer.

Rich media. Rich media has become a core part of many branding solutions. It’s more engaging, and multiple studies show it is more effective at online branding. That’s why many publishers, even those whose paying audience makes them change averse (such as The Wall Street Journal), are adopting rich media as a way to reach out to brand advertisers.

If you visited The Wall Street Journal last Monday, you probably noticed an expandable, rich media ad for Oracle, designed by Beyond Interactive in San Francisco. Oracle road-blocked the Journal’s home page for the day, using the publication’s new, proprietary product, the “Brand Launch Unit.” The unit is a large rectangle users can expand and shrink with a click, making it a good branding vehicle without being overly intrusive.

Sponsorships and targeted content. A study released last month showed ads are more effective for branding when targeted to specific content rather than when targeted as run-of-site or -network. This makes sense. The more relevant advertising is, the better it works.

One site offering interesting branding sponsorships is ESPN. Sponsorships such as an ad resembling a stadium billboard, running on the baseball scoreboard section of the site, is a good example of execution creatively integrated into content. For advertisers who want their brands associated with a lifestyle, these types of sponsorships make good sense.

Cross media. Marketers don’t want to build their brands online. They want to build their brands, period. The Internet is just one media channel to accomplish that goal. Online publishers are working to integrate ad solutions with the overall media strategies of their clients.

MSN led the way early this year when it released a study showing how online advertising can work synergistically with print and broadcast. The smart publishers are working with affiliate offline media to create integrated advertising packages, or at least provide a way for advertisers to reinforce and build offline advertising messaging. Brand advertising will ultimately need to blur the line between offline and online media.

These ad products are building blocks for customized solutions that meet specific needs of brand advertisers. The best campaigns happen when the advertiser, agency, and publisher work together to create a unique approach. No matter what your role in the process, it’s clear publishers who offer branding products have more to bring to the table than those offering merely a bunch of impressions.

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