Revisiting IntelliTXT

Since contextual ad provider Vibrant Media launched IntelliTXT in-text advertising in the summer of 2003, the company has encountered some formidable challenges. You may have been among the skeptics who questioned the idea of imbedding ads in editorial content, arguing Internet users wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the two. Hey, I certainly was.

Fast-forward three years and that skepticism doesn’t seem to have slowed this interactive ad product down. IntelliTXT is thriving, and Vibrant Media has a pretty persuasive response to any remaining doubts.

The latest news from the company is it began offering video ad units last month. Like its original ads, which were text-based and sometimes featured a logo or image, the units are completely user-initiated. While viewing editorial content on a site from one of the 1,200 publishers Vibrant works with, the user sees the telltale green font and double-underline on a targeted word. Mouse over that word and a small video screen appears displaying a TV ad, movie trailer, or other third-party video clip.

Vibrant Media names movie studios, video game companies, and automotive manufacturers among its clients, including Microsoft, Sony, and Ford. To promote the film “Poseidon” this spring, for example, Warner Brothers purchased placements on sites like IGN Entertainment. Keywords such as “poseidon” and “imax” were tapped to deliver the movie trailer to site visitors. As it does with all its advertisers, Vibrant worked with the company to determine contextually appropriate sites and compile a list of keywords.

Currently, the company “highlights” 4 billion words per month and reaches about 69 million Internet users through its publisher partnerships. IntelliTXT Video units are sold on a CPC (define) basis, so advertisers receive quite a bit of added value from the placements. They can associate their brands with a specific keyword (also, coincidentally, one of the benefits of paid search advertising) and boost brand and product recall when users engage with the video ads, even if they don’t click through.

All ads are purchased, placed, and optimized directly through Vibrant. The company buys media from its partner publishers, delivers a JavaScript to the content pages, analyzes those pages for relevant words, and highlights the words after the page has been loaded.

Relevance, reach, rich media, user-initiated interactivity. It would appear the newest version of IntelliTXT has it all. Yet it still recalls that age-old online dilemma about editorial versus advertising. Are consumers really aware the highlighted keywords link to third-party ads? If so, what’s their reaction to this highly integrated form of interactive advertising?

According to Vibrant Media’s CEO and cofounder Doug Stevenson, there’s no question IntelliTXT is construed as advertising. “Users haven’t complained, even in focus groups,” he says, noting the company counts 19 of the 20 publishers it began working with three years ago as current partners (seems they aren’t receiving many complaints, either). “People who use online media understand that it’s advertising.”

If this wasn’t always the case, Vibrant has gone to great lengths to ensure it’s so. Ads are always demarcated as such and feature a question mark in the upper right corner that links to a detailed explanation of what users are seeing. Publishers are also encouraged to create a site page that fosters awareness and understanding of the highlighted words visitors might encounter while on their sites.

If they stop to think about it, consumers are likely to appreciate the uninterrupted surfing experience IntelliTXT affords as well. Unlike other rich media units, this variety doesn’t distract from reading site content with unwanted movement or force users to sit through pre-roll clips before delivering what they really want.

If they’re not interested in learning more about the film “Poseidon,” for example, visitors simply don’t click. They can choose whether to interact with the advertiser. That makes those consumers who do a pretty appealing audience.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve discussed the importance of interactivity with purpose and expanding our interactive advertising horizons. Marry those ideas with the user-initiated interactivity provided by IntelliTXT Video, and I’d say we’re armed with an interactivity trifecta that will take us far.

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