Rich Media Advertising: Are Those Bugles I Hear?

Rich media and its effect on online advertising may or may not be akin to the cavalry riding in to save the day, but its technologies offer a solution for reaching online users that the current click-through-based advertising approaches can’t touch.

Products such as those from Enliven Inc. and bluestreak offer advertisers the tools and the ability to create ad units that can perform a variety of marketing tasks (e.g., capturing user-supplied data, printing out information directly from the ad, allowing the user to download files from the ad, and changing size and format upon user interaction) without requiring the user to go anywhere else.

Not only that, all of the user data, including how the ad was displayed and how long it was viewed, can be measured and stored to provide solid performance reporting.

Whether we like it or not, the Internet has developed into an opt-in advertising environment. If users don’t want to view an ad, then they don’t have to. There are many ways to avoid online ads. And while it appears that the online advertising experience will never follow a linear model like television, there’s no reason why it needs to.

Advertising That Works

Advertising is all about getting a message to the right audience — creating an environment where advertisers can present their wares and interested users can learn about them without forced interruptions. Online advertising can achieve the effectiveness that eluded early online marketers by involving users in the decision to view an ad and allowing them to control how the ad is used.

With the advantage of such capabilities, why aren’t advertisers using rich media for everything they do online? It’s partly because of limited information on the benefits of rich media, partly because development costs are generally greater than those for GIF banners, and partly because many advertisers don’t know how to get started in rich media advertising.

The Myths and Realities

There are also several myths regarding rich media that have slowed its wide acceptance among advertisers.

Myth: Rich media ads are expensive to create.

Reality: There is no doubt that rich media ads are more costly than GIF banners to create; however, this is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, stringing three still graphics together in an endless loop is generally easier than creating an interactive program. Although a GIF ad can be designed to drive users to a Web site, that’s pretty much all it can do. A rich media ad, on the other hand, offers much greater marketing power for the advertiser.

Rich media can provide a full marketing experience. It can take on any of the marketing and sales roles that the Web sites are responsible for. Rich media ads are marketing and selling tools with a wide scope of possibilities for reaching the right customer. Rich media ads are customized computer applications that can be designed to perform specific tasks, while GIF banners are buttons that lead users to a place where they can find marketing and sales information.

The bottom line is that you get what you pay for. If an advertiser is interested only in driving users to a Web site, then a GIF banner can do as good a job as a rich media banner for that task. However, if an advertiser is looking to market effectively without requiring that customers first visit the Web site to learn why they should buy, offer customers simple ways of getting information for making purchases, and do all of this in a way that can be measured and tracked by the advertiser, then the benefits become obvious.

Myth: Rich media ads take a long time to develop.

Reality: When measured directly against the time required to create a GIF banner, most (but not all) rich media ads will take longer to build. However, this is like saying that an automobile takes longer to assemble than a bicycle. While this is true, most consumers can see the benefit of a longer development cycle.

Many rich media ads can be created in a single day and offer a wealth of interactive tools. Other types of ads may take longer to create. Because many rich media ads are custom-built tools, the time required to build them is based on the complexity of the ad and the work that needs to be done.

Myth: Many sites don’t accept rich media ads.

Reality: Once upon a time, when rich media ads were a new online advertising alternative, many sites were concerned that this new technology could cause problems and software conflicts for users. In some cases, the concern had merit; in others, it did not.

Over time, sites have learned to resolve most problems, and rich media technologies have become more and more standardized; thus, the potential for problems and software conflicts has greatly diminished.

Today, rich media ads are accepted worldwide on thousands and thousands of Web sites. The truth is that it’s much more uncommon to find a site that doesn’t accept rich media ads than to find one that does.

It is also a reality that the click-through-focused ad is a dying breed. Once advertisers understand how they can apply rich media technologies toward achieving marketing goals, there will be no looking back.

Rich media advertising is the next wave. It isn’t hard to learn how to create effective ads that generate desired results — results that can be measured daily.

And if you ever have a longing for the good old days, rich media banners can also measure click-through. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

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