Rich Media Campaigns: Missing the Mark

There are those among us in the online advertising industry who believe that the banner ad serves only as a temporary waypoint on the road to something greater. These proponents of rich media hope that through a combination of better production values and greater interactivity, the medium will experience a jump in effectiveness.

In fact, most studies show that rich media does lead to more effective advertising campaigns, but I don’t yet consider myself a rich media convert.

Advertisers Prefer Banners

Each December, for the past five years, the trade press calls around to prominent advertising executives to get their comments on a year-end story titled something along the lines of “The Death of the Banner.” In it, the reporter musters the arguments why the banner is a piddling creative device that has misdirected many people’s energies away from where they should be focused: rich media. And each January, all the ad executives nod their heads and continue to purchase $2 billion worth of banners, then $4 billion, then $8 billion, etc.

Rich media gets scraps. In relative terms, rich media spending might even be decreasing over time. Part of this stems from a series of daunting challenges most rich media campaigns face. Part of it is caused by the fact that our current forms of rich media still do not rival the production values of some other media. Part of it arises from the fact that the people who create the richer forms of creative at ad agencies tend to be the same ones who care little for the Internet.

Where Does Rich Media Fall Short?

I think, though, that there is a greater reason why rich media has failed to gain wide acceptance. In the grand scheme of things, people excited about online advertising place their hopes in one of two broad categories of value: rich returns of data that lead to great performance or rich returns of effective creative that cause great performance.

Rich media suffers from two factors that make it difficult for online marketers to jump from pursuing data riches to pursuing creative riches. First, rich media isn’t quite compatible enough with our current bandwidth and technology to create the desired level of creative experience. (Remember those McDonald’s and Hallmark ads that made people cry?) Second, because of all sorts of technical reasons, the data we get back from these rich media campaigns isn’t quite as good, in many cases, as the data we get back from campaigns based on sound media-targeting strategies.

When we conduct rich media campaigns, we frequently reach only a subset of the targeted audience — those who have the technology and bandwidth to see an ad — and this skews the data for many types of analyses.

That said, rich media needs to be part of an online marketer’s repertoire. While it isn’t yet a desirable tactic for most campaigns, it is the best for some. There are a number of specific advantages and problems involved with conducting rich media campaigns.

An equation can be applied to campaigns to figure out when rich media becomes an appropriate option. Rich media makes sense when the incremental cost of media and production is less than the product of the increment of creative performance and the level of exposure allowed. Next week, we’ll explore those specific advantages and the particular problems that factor into our assessment.

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