The Forms of Rich Media: Part 2

Some are born to greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. And some of us… well, some of us are just lucky to stumble upon it from time to time.

That’s how I felt the other day, doing my usual morning crawl around the web, when up popped the most beautiful banner ad I had ever laid eyes on.

Dear readers, can we put aside the fascination with click-through numbers, branding vs. direct marketing, tracking, closed-loop marketing, permission marketing, privacy, affiliates, email marketing, blah, blah, blah and just for one second stop and appreciate a thing of beauty when we see it?

I’m talking about the “True to the Original” banner campaign from Hewlett-Packard. This is the way rich media is supposed to be. This is the way all advertising is supposed to be.

The banner, developed by Freestyle Interactive for Goodby, Silverstein, and Partners, is a Java ad for HP printers. It doesn’t have any drop-down menus. You can’t buy the printer from the ad. The ad doesn’t let you print out specs or coupons. I would be surprised if the click-through numbers were very high. You can’t even interact with it, for heaven’s sake! But I will tell you, my cubical was filled with folks (many of whom actually buy printers) looking at this ad with mouths agape.

What you see is a single butterfly, floating randomly around the banner. At one point, the butterfly just flies off the banner, stage right, and floats back in just in time to land on the HP printer as the tag line “True to the Original” gently fades in. I didn’t time the animation, but it seems to just go on, as if it had all the time in the world to get its point across.

Kim Askew, Freestyle’s producer on the campaign, commented: “We felt that it would be important for the HP banners to have a wow factor that went beyond surface design – we also wanted to impress the viewer technically. We suggested a rich media solution as the best way to accomplish their goals.

“Because we used Java to build the banner, we could stream in the animation and the movement would be smooth, not jumpy as it would be in a typical animated GIF banner, and it would also retain the photo-realism necessary to make it ‘True to the Original.'”

Maggie McCue, the national advertising manager for HP, said that there was no predetermination to use rich media. They just wanted to go with technology that made the most sense for the campaign’s objectives. And, believe it or not, Maggie tells me that even the sites running the campaign love the banner.

If HP wanted to make the butterfly fly right out of the banner and on to the page, they could have made this a Cometized banner. (Before I go on, I’d like in the interests of full disclosure to remind you that I’m the evangelist for Comet Systems.)

The Cometized banner takes any banner, rich media or not, and lets advertisers attach an animated cursor file to it. Viewers must have previously downloaded Comet’s client-side plug-in, called the Comet Cursor, at a web site such as Star Trek. When a Cometized banner rotates on to the page, and assuming you’ve downloaded the Comet Cursor, your cursor dynamically changes into an image associated with the ad. Because of the additional awareness that the cursor brings to the campaign, Cometized banners seem to enhance click-through rates.

Another rich media technology that depends on a plug-in technology is “vector graphics.” The most prevalent form of vector graphics is Flash from Macromedia. The other vector graphic technology, the ill-fated VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language), has lost almost any and all the steam it once had.

The way vector graphics works is that instead of sending multiple image files across the network to build an animation, vector graphics such as Flash send a small compact set of instructions on how the computer should render the image. If the proper plug-in is available to interpret the instructions, the image is literally drawn (“rendered,” in computer graphics-ese) on the computer in real time.

Amazingly complex interactive animations can be created in a vector graphics format with a very small file size hit. In fact, when I first saw the HP ad, I assumed it was Flash because of the complexity of the animation.

Java, cursors, vector graphics. One, two, three. We knocked out quite a bit in this column. As promised, we’ll try to finish up this “Forms of Rich Media” series next week by looking at some of the other rich media powerhouses out there.

Related reading