Show Some Skins for Summer

In the ongoing quest to capture the consumer’s attention online, marketers have employed countless tactics in an effort to stand out. One of the latest comes courtesy of the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and its recent push to initiate the use of larger ad formats. Besides being designed to stimulate greater creativity among advertisers, the units — which are now running on several sites — fulfill another purpose: they combat the dreaded ad blindness (define) phenomenon.

The concept of ad blindness — and the related concept of banner blindness (define) — may have been around for about a decade, but it still applies today. Extreme familiarity with the typical location, size, and shape of ads on a Web page (among other factors related to browsing behavior) allows Internet users to overlook and ignore ads, much to the chagrin of those who have paid to put them there.

The OPA’s new and exciting interactive ad units are well equipped to help reengage consumers who may be disillusioned (or simply bored) with online ads. When the goal is to ensure a prominent placement on the site page, however, there’s another approach that’s worth a look.

The Skinny on Skins

You may have been introduced to skins as wallpaper ads, and they occasionally retain that moniker. Most often, though, they’re sold as “home page skins.”

I touched on this format recently in the context of a common combination of home page ad units. Although a skin, video unit, and companion banner are a worthy buy, skins are an incredibly useful format in and of themselves, regardless of how they’re supplemented.

Skins aren’t best used in direct response campaigns, but rather to increase awareness of, and interest in, a product or brand. The background skin’s greatest asset is its size: it will typically occupy almost the entire site page, overlapped by site content in the middle. This large footprint makes it ideal for branding campaigns, which is why you’ll often see skins used in entertainment advertising to promote new TV shows, movies, and video games, as well as in consumer packaged goods campaigns advertising products new to market.

Two such examples were available for scrutiny this week when competing celebrity gossip sites Perez Hilton and E Online launched oddly similar home page skins.

Heralding the DVD release of the first season of the new “Beverly Hills 90210,” the show took over perezhilton.com with the same promotional image of cast members in a swimming pool used on billboards and in print ads. The buy included horizontal banner and leaderboard placements, but its crowning glory was a redesigned site logo. The trademark Perez Hilton logo that usually appears at the top of the screen was reworked using a font similar to that employed by “90210.” The result was a completely immersive online advertising experience to the point where, to the consumer, it would be easy to forget where the advertiser’s brand ends and the site brand begins.

Over at E Online, a different TV program bathed the site in blue. E’s featured advertiser, new summer reality series “Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami,” replaced the usual dark background of the home page with an image of the reality show sisters posing in front of a turquoise Miami sky. This buy was complemented by video ads that introduce potential viewers to the show through video clips of upcoming episodes.

The Answer to an Interactive Skin

Skins may resemble the static banners of days gone by, but depending on the publisher and the layout of the site home page, they can allow for some real creativity. In May, we witnessed a wonderful example of this when Fox Studios partnered with Ask.com to promote both Fox’s new film “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and Ask’s “robust search results.”

On the search engine’s home page was the film’s main character surrounded by the historical legends that act as his costars, including Amelia Earhart, Ivan the Terrible, and Napoleon. When the user moused over one of the featured individuals, the action revealed a link to the related search results. In addition to introducing consumers to the film’s characters, the skin boosted engagement and recall by encouraging a deeper investigation into their backgrounds — thanks to Ask, of course.

Skins are unconventional ads with a big impact that can serve different purposes for different advertisers and site publishers. Finding the right formula to ensure your success is simply a matter of being creative, collaborative, and willing to think outside the traditional ad unit.

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