Rich Media: Doing It for the Right Reason

No major stories this week. No case studies. No new technology to deconstruct. We’ll be back to that next week for certain. But this week I want to take some time out to reflect. At this moment in time, we’re in the doldrums of August, gearing up for the mania of September, the long push toward Christmas, elections, the Millennium. So maybe it’s not a crime to take one week off to pause, reflect, and maybe even recalibrate a bit.

In other words… I had one of those weeks.

Without going into the gory details, it was one of those weeks that make you stop and re-evaluate things. And because I think about rich media and the Internet advertising industry a lot, I extend that navel gazing to the industry as a whole. Is rich media dead? Is Internet advertising dead? Does any of this stuff actually work? Are we all just smoking our own dope, after all?

Good questions.

Rich media as a term is undergoing a bit of transmogrification. It’s begun to pick up some baggage for some people. So some people some of the traditional “brand name” rich media players are beginning to gently back away from the term. Newer players, those mostly in the “streaming” arena, on the other hand, have latched on to the term. In fact, for many people today, rich media is synonymous with “streaming video.”

New technologies come along, pick up the rich media banner, and carry it for a while, hoping to position themselves somewhere, anywhere, where there is at least a foothold, a way of describing what they do. What they really mean, of course, is I do something that hasn’t been done before. I don’t know what to call it, so let’s call it rich media.

A lot of these technologies are created using a faulty theory of product development; that is, they are created simply because it can be done and because we can.

This idea of “because we can” is so rarely transformed into “because we should,” which is sad and, unfortunately, can be deadly.

Witness this story from this week’s Wall Street Journal: A first-time novelist decides to do a little viral marketing on his own. He sends out a few emails to his friends and asks them to do likewise if they like the book. The result? A jump in sales, and the author watches his book climb on the Amazon.com charts. The author decides to take it to the next level and hires an Internet marketing firm (which he found when they spammed him proving spam works). The firm blindly spams the web and newsgroups about the author’s book, causing a backlash. The result: a big nosedive in sales, nasty comments from users on the Amazon site, and the author goes back to his day job (proving spam doesn’t work).

Witness this story from this week’s Industry Standard: Evite.com is so pumped about its guerrilla marketing tactics that it practically terrorizes passersby into taking its branded tchotchkes. Employees’ entire lives are sacrificed to the promotion of the product, with all the fervor of a Moonie devotee. And yet, Evite.com’s CEO refuses to talk about revenue, the supposed endgame to all this obsessive craziness.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I have my own little mailing list for the Rich Media SIG. I know that the value of the list comes from having people trust me to do the right thing. The value comes from having only people who want to be there, be there those who opt in, those who tell their friends. When people ask to get off my list, they get a nice personal email from me wishing them well along with my personal regrets of having lost them. I truly want to serve the people on my list. And not to do any sentimental ass kissing, but I’ve met Ann Handley and Andy Bourland, and I believe they feel and act the same way about ClickZ. Which is why ClickZ is so good. It serves. And because of that, it is successful.

Rich media is not dead, neither is Internet advertising. But maybe it just needs to stop now and again and refocus and realign itself on the side of the customer and client. Maybe it should stop doing things because “it can” and start thinking about doing things because “it should.” Do that and the endgame will take care of itself.

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