Rich Media Campaigns: The Pros and Cons

Last week, we touched on some of the advantages and problems involved with conducting rich media (RM) campaigns. So how do you know when a rich media campaign makes sense? Before going any further, we need to define rich media.

Defining Rich Media

Rich media remains a fuzzy classification. Some people throw anything that’s not a banner into the RM category, including everything from email ads to special advertorial placements. Most people, however, interpret the “rich” in rich media to mean that it involves a more sophisticated creative, often one that takes a great deal of bandwidth to download.

For our purposes, we’ll adopt this definition: Rich media involves a creative format that includes a complex interactive experience and/or high production values for video and sound components. This divides rich media advocates into two camps: those trying to affect viewers through a TV-like medium, and those trying to affect viewers through a highly interactive experience.

The Pros and Cons of Rich Media

Rich media can have the sizzle that many ad executives complain the typical Internet creative lacks. If an agency can marshal its creative forces, it has the potential to create more powerful advertising than currently exists in any other media. But there’s more to this than first meets the eye.

The major pros of rich media are:

  • It gets viewers’ attention.

  • It delivers a more nuanced message.
  • It employs emotional appeals difficult to execute in a two-dimensional medium.
  • It allows for interactive experiences like games or commerce applications.
  • It gives the impression of leadership in the Internet space for the advertiser’s product category.

But these benefits come at a great cost:

  • Bandwidth requirements are much greater for rich media (by a factor of 10 to 100), preventing many viewers from seeing the ad.

  • Rich media formats often require a certain browser or plug-in technology, preventing a good proportion of the audience from getting the rich message.
  • Production costs on rich creative can be as high as those for television spots. The range is broad, but with the smaller media buys on the Internet, the relative efficiency can be hard to swallow.
  • Some rich media technologies do not yet have fully developed measurement capabilities that yield performance information on a par with other online advertising.
  • A rich media campaign involves many parties. Between the site, the agency, the client, the production house, the technology vendor, and, often, a special rich media ad server, there is a lot of room for miscommunication.
  • The rich media trafficking process can be a bear: Each technology involves very different creative assets, and each site on a media buy tends to treat them differently. Consequently, advertisers face a custom process for every part of the buy, requiring a lot of manual labor and a great deal of oversight. It’s so complex that entire businesses — like my former employer, Solbright — exist to automate these processes.
  • Finally, a problem endemic to a lot of rich media advertising comes from its very novelty. Many advertisers fail to start off a rich media campaign with useful and measurable performance metrics in mind. Often, conducting the campaign is an objective in itself, leading to a lot of effort with few visible results. And these campaigns are often orphaned after the first media spend.

Factoring the Pros and Cons Into Our Equation

With the above factors in mind, let’s see if rich media makes sense for our campaign. Assuming that our objective can be helped along with some of the pros — like getting people’s attention and giving us a more powerful, emotional medium to deliver a message — we need to factor in some values to weigh against the costs.

We’ll hew to our original equation: 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. To make matters simple, let’s call the incremental cost of media IM, the incremental cost of production IP, the incremental creative performance rate ICP, and our level of exposure E. Our formula now looks like this: Rich media makes sense when IM + IP < ICP x E.

Let’s assume (the first iteration of the campaign can be tested to confirm) that a rich media version of a message is twice as effective as a normal banner ad. That gives us an ICP of 1. We can pick an arbitrary exposure level (E) of, say, $100,000 worth of media.

For the cost side, we’ll assume that the media cost is augmented for two reasons: The sites tack on an additional charge of 25 percent to deal with rich media, and we find that 35 percent of the sites’ audiences won’t be able to see the rich media ads due to technical limitations. That gives us an IM of 60 percent of E.

Finally, our IP can be arbitrarily set at a reasonable production cost of $35,000. Putting all the variables together, we find our equation to be (0.6 x $100,000) + $35,000 < 1 x $100,000. This leads to the statement $95,000 < $100,000. Most media professionals would agree that this is a true statement, implying that rich media makes sense in this case. However, if our media budget were only half that ($50,000), it wouldn't make much sense at all.

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