Rich Media Surprises Even a Believer

Rich media outperforms poor media. A Flash banner, an expanding ad, a Superstitial, a floating ad — every one of these various forms of rich media will knock the pants off a standard GIF ad any day.

We know this, and most of us have probably seen countless case studies proving what we already know. And yet, rich media makes up a relatively small portion of most online advertising budgets.

It’s my job to evaluate rich media technologies and match technologies to client campaign objectives and tactics. I’m the rich media advocate here, and I’ve read all of the case studies. I’ve been preaching the rich media gospel here since very early in my tenure.

Yet even I was stunned by the results of a recent rich media campaign that we ran, and I’d like to share some of what we discovered.

We used several different rich media executions — a floating ad, an expanding ad, and a Flash-based interstitial. The primary goal was to get users to register for a free product trial; there was no other significant incentive beyond the free product trial. We weren’t offering free toasters or sweepstakes entries for a trip to Hawaii.

Standard GIF banners drove traffic to the Web site, where the user could register for the free trial offer. The expanding ad and the interstitial both featured the registration form within the ad unit. The floating ad was used primarily as a branding piece, but it also drove traffic to the site.

Let’s start with the most basic metric: click-through rate. At their worst, the rich media executions achieved a click-through rate that was more than two and a half times the average of our standard banners. Note that I didn’t compare the rich media performance to industry standards. This is an apples-to-apples comparison; our rich media creative versus our standard ads. At their best, the rich media units reached almost one hundred times the performance of our standard ads.

I can hear the doubters among you already: “But, click-through is meaningless!” And you’re often right — click-through is a poor metric. And frequently, the ads with the highest click-through rate suffer the lowest conversion rate.

But not in this case. In terms of registrations as a percentage of impressions, our weakest rich media unit beat the standard ads by a factor of five. The best rich media unit racked up a 20-times lift in performance.

Here they come again: “Yeah, but rich media is so much more expensive than GIF banners. Even with the increase in performance, you probably wound up paying more for the rich media.”

“Not so,” I say again.

In fact, our media team is hard at work at this very moment shifting even more dollars toward rich media. Our rich media ads achieved a cost per registrant that is below 25 percent of the cost per action (CPA) for standard GIFs. And that includes all of the extra serving fees, higher CPMs and increased creative production fees.

So far, rich media ads have accounted for approximately 8 percent of all impressions for the campaign. And they have generated a remarkable 60 percent of our overall registrations.

To be fair, I expected the expanding ad and the interstitial to do really well — we had the registration form integrated right into the ad. But for the floating ad, users first had to click-through and then complete the registration form once at the Web site.

My biggest concern with floating ads is that there might be a high occurrence of accidental clicks. Since the ad covers site content, theoretically, a user trying to click on a link on the content page might accidentally click on the ad and be hijacked away to the advertiser’s Web site. You’d figure that these visitors would be upset, highly unqualified, and not likely to complete your registration form.

You’d be wrong, at least in this case. If we look strictly at the conversion rate in terms of registrations versus impressions, the floating ads are more than eight times more efficient. And remember, this is no trip to Hawaii. If it were, you might expect that even unqualified users who had accidentally clicked through might fill out the registration form. But, no, this is merely a free product trial.

Rich media presents many implementation challenges and can be especially difficult to implement on smaller campaigns. But with results like these, it’s hard to argue against it.

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