We know rich media ad units almost always outperform “standard” creative. Most of you have probably experimented with some rich creative and witnessed performance lift firsthand. Numerous published case studies demonstrate rich media’s ability to improve just about every metric, from click-through and conversion to brand awareness and purchase intent.
I’d like to share some rich media tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years as we tested many different formats.
Numerous vendors offer expanding ad formats, including Point·Roll, Bluestreak, Enliven, and, most recently, Eyeblaster. These units can be very effective, particularly for delivering a complex message requiring more time or space than a standard unit permits or collecting user information (e.g., registration for a sweepstakes or newsletter).
One inherent challenge to expanding ads is getting consumers to realize the ad can, in fact, expand. A cheap method is to expand on mouseover, relying on accidental mouseovers to capture attention. You can also use copy: “Mouse here for more information.” More elegant and deliberate methods exist, however:
- Use an interactive trigger. This is one of our favorite trigger mechanisms. We’ll have an object on one side of the banner and instruct the user to drag it to the other side. Maybe there’s a golf ball on the banner’s left and a hole on its right. The ball can quiver in place, attracting attention and indicating this is no ordinary banner. As the user mouses over the ad, the ball can attach itself to the cursor. Then, the user knows to drag it into the hole, triggering expansion.
- Use tabs, especially if you have multiple expanded “panels.” Tabular navigation is used on many sites, including Amazon.com. Consumers are familiar with the concept. Having tabs running along the bottom of your banner indicates there’s additional content available.
- Use a teaser. Point·Roll launched a new teaser format a few months ago. The ad loads, waits a few seconds, expands and remains open for about three to five seconds, then closes. It’s open just long enough to catch the user’s eye and indicate the ad is expandable.
If you use this method, it tends to get better response if the object moves in place and attaches on mouseover. In one test, we ran the same ad twice with one slight variation. In one version, the object attached on mouseover. In a second version, the object required a click to attach itself to the user’s mouse. The mouseover attachment performed about eight times better than the one needing a click. Common sense, but it’s good to have data to back it up.
The most important tip for Unicast’s format: Use audio, and have it start as soon as possible. Like in TV and radio, the choice of sound effects and music online can be the difference between an extremely powerful ad and one that fizzles. Too often, I’ve seen a potentially great superstitial unit torpedoed by weak audio. Music has power to affect mood and can enhance the visual in ways nearly impossible to describe.
The other challenge with a superstitial is balancing the amount of action and animation. Too much is overwhelming; too little is boring. Don’t forget to test the Flash piece on multiple machines, ideally with different processor speeds and memory. Unicast does a fair amount of tweaking once it receives the files, but doing your own quality assurance and optimization makes the process faster and more effective. It will help ensure the final product is as close to your vision as possible.
These units are very popular and (for now) very effective. In a recent campaign we did, floating ads beat the standard creative units by a factor of four — for a six-week period! Audio is an asset in floating ads, when permitted by the publisher. Primary vendors are United Virtualities and Eyeblaster.
My best piece of advice is to try to have background content dim when the ad appears. Dimming the background to 50 percent opacity makes the ad pop off the page without totally destroying the site content. Many publishers are sensitive about this, so make sure your media buyers push for this from the beginning of negotiations.
Media folks should also remember to discuss the position of the “reminder ad.” Typically, a floating unit plays for 5 to 10 seconds, then another unit is left behind for a longer period. Positioning of this ad is critical. So many are positioned off the page or overlap other ads or content. This must be negotiated up front. The ad can be set to a different location for each site on which you’re running floating ads.
Using Flash forms can be effective at turning these ads, primarily used for branding and traffic driving, into conversion vehicles.
I must add one gigantic caveat here: Be sensitive to the user experience. The last thing you want to do, obviously, is upset the people to whom you are trying to sell. Floating ads are among the most intrusive of online ad formats, and they may upset some users. We try to select the publishers on which we run floating ads very carefully. In addition to all the usual site selection criteria, we tend to look for sites on which:
- The target audience has been receptive to new ad formats in the past.
- The site content lends itself well to cutting-edge formats (gaming sites, for example).
- Floating ads have run successfully in the past with little negative user feedback.
Finding a site that embodies your usual desirable site characteristics as well as these floating ad attributes can be a challenge, but the performance lift is well worth the trouble. It’s also a good idea to make these ad formats very narrowly targeted and entertaining — a user may be less perturbed by an intrusive ad unit if it is relevant and has some entertainment value.
Hope you’ve found some of these tips helpful. Every one is drawn from our own experience and endless campaign tests. They may not carry the weight of a study conducted by one of the big research firms, but give them a try. You’ll see the effectiveness.
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