The Forms of Rich Media: Part 3

This week, as we finish our review of the major rich media technology players, I’m reminded of the perennial question surrounding not only rich media, but all online advertising: Is it branding or is it direct marketing?

The answer, of course, is that it is both, a fact exemplified by the two leaders in Java-based, beyond-the-banner advertising solutions: BlueStreak and Enliven. (The third company in this space, Thinking Media, has recently repositioned itself as a rich media solution for wireless devices, which will be examined in a future article.)

Enliven has morphed itself more times than Jim Carrey. Starting out as a CD-ROM development tools company, it jumped into the proprietary plug-in business when the CD-ROM market floundered. Soon, however, they were reinventing themselves again as a server company, ditching their proprietary plug-in albatross and latching onto a Java solution.

A solution for what and for whom? At first Enliven tried to sell its servers as ad delivery systems for ad agencies, and then, when that failed, it tried selling them to web publishers. Faced with a classic chicken-and-egg problem, it offered to serve the ads itself so that both agencies and publishers could try it out. The day it received its first CPM check (more money than they ever received for the servers), a light opened up in the sky, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began to sing, and – voil`! – the Enliven banner was born.

Developing an Enliven ad is pretty straightforward. The creative is done using the Director tool from Macromedia. The Director files are uploaded to Enliven, where reporting and tracking hooks are incorporated, and the files are converted into Java.

MatchLogic, where Enliven now finds its home in the vast labyrinth of the Excite@Home conglomerate, can serve and provide targeting for the ads, targeting here being a good thing since Enliven files tend toward the bloated side. Not a problem if we are talking T1 or cable modem connections (and Enliven is definitely positioned to take advantage of broadband convergence), but on a 28.8 home modem line… well, let’s just say I usually see Enliven ads at work and rarely, if ever, at home.

Once Enliven ads are downloaded, however, they prove a great branding tool with amazingly robust interaction. I particularly love the “E-Culture” campaign banners created by OgilvyInteractive for IBM, which won the 1999 Grand Clio Interactive award.

And it obviously works, since some of the industries’ biggest brand builders have lined up to try it out: IBM, Amazon, 1-800-flowers, the list goes on and on. If you are checking these banners out from home, however, expect a wait. I averaged about 30 seconds before anything came up on the screen and another minute before the ads were fully functional. Nevertheless, once you do see them, you remember them. And isn’t that what building a brand is all about? Enliven ads are accepted on about 400 sites.

BlueStreak has wisely marked out a different territory for itself by positioning itself squarely in the direct marketer’s camp. Unlike Enliven ads, the Bluestreak E*Banners work quite well over a 28.8 home connection, thank you. The banners that I tested on their gallery page popped up almost instantaneously.

In fact, BlueStreak is so fast that they passed the Yahoo six-second rule (the maximum time Yahoo allows for an ad to load). What loads is really a simple animated GIF, which includes an interactive button that encourages the viewer to expand the banner. Once clicked, it takes about 20 seconds to load up the additional goodies.

E*Banner stands for “expanding banner.” When clicked, it extends the banner’s real estate. Lead generation, promotions, surveys, and other stuff close to any direct marketer’s heart can then be loaded without leaving the current site.

Creative is done with standard tools like Photoshop and Imagemaker processed either by Bluestreak or built with BlueStreak’s “On-the-Fly” toolkit that provides real-time tracking feedback and the ability to tweak the ad “on the fly.” (Get it?)

As a result, things like email conversions, which normally run between one and five percent, average between 15 and 30 percent using the E*Banner, according to marketing director Stefan Tornquist. In keeping with its direct marketing approach, BlueStreak takes major advantage of the ad networks such as DoubleClick, 24/7 Media, and Adsmart, giving BlueStreak ads access to over 4,000 sites.

Okay, we’re done. Now that we’ve reviewed the established players, I’m ready to learn about something new. Have you developed a new rich media technology and are dying to get the word out? Let me know about it. Next week we’ll start exploring the future of rich media: email, wireless, and who knows what else. To infinity and beyond!

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