The Future Of Web Advertising

I’ve been on vacation this past week, tooling around Northern California and doing a LOT of driving.

And, as anyone who’s cruised routes 1 and 101 around San Francisco finds out pretty quickly, looking at a lot of billboards. Sure, they aren’t much to compare to the scenery out on the coast, but they did get me thinking about web advertising.

What does a billboard do, anyway? A lot of them are directed toward branding — if enough drivers see the message enough times, they’re bound to remember the name and associate it with the message on the board.

Some of them are directed to cellphone users — here’s a number to call… call it now! But others are directional, pointing the way toward an attraction, a store, or a service just over the next hill.

As you’re whizzing by at 65 mph, quick branding messages work fine – provided you pass them by enough to have the message burned into your memory.

The ads based on a phone number work okay if you’re in need of the service and you have a phone or if you see them enough to remember the number – not many folks are going to whip out a pad and jot down the number while trying to fight traffic.

But those directional ads – they’re really only going to work if:

  1. You’ve got the time to make a detour.

  2. You need the thing being advertised enough to turn off (gas is a prime example).
  3. The thing being advertised is something you were searching for in the first place but just weren’t exactly sure where it was.

Most web ads want to be directional ads.

There you are, surfing along, trying to find the weather, some tech news, or (if you’re here) some information you can use in your business.

You’re directed, you’re an arrow, you’re heading in a straight line toward your destination – information. And then, there it is: A banner ad staring you in the face, begging for your attention.

What to do? The site being advertised looks pretty interesting. You might even need what they’re selling. But you know darn well that clicking on that ad to find out more info than what they can squeeze into that little banner means a long detour, and that’s something you don’t have time for. You make a mental note, and surf onward. The ad doesn’t get a click.

It amazes me that in this interactive world we web folks inhabit, most of the advertising ain’t much different from the type of advertising that’s been done for the past 80 years or so. Why are we still asking people to make detours detours they don’t necessarily want to make…when we should be using the medium for what it’s good at – interactivity?

Asking people to click on a banner isn’t all that different from asking drivers to turn off the freeway to see your store. Sure, some might, but most probably have better things to do. Wouldn’t it be better to take the store to them, instead?

Enliven, Blue Streak’s E*Banner, and EC Direct’s Econductor are all technologies that make it possible to break out of the old paradigms and into a whole new world of web marketing. Combining rich media, on-the-fly content creation, and (in some cases) in-the-banner interactivity, these products allow you to bring your web store (or, in some cases, your web site) directly to your customers for on-the-spot sales that don’t require detours.

Enliven’s product is the longest-established rich-media solution out of the bunch, utilizing a Java-based player to deliver interactive, rich-media ads to your customers.

These banners auto-detect for browser compatibility, delivering gif banners to users it determines can’t view the technology (though the list of those who can’t is growing smaller all the time). Used extensively in broad-band applications such as @Home’s cable modem systems, Enliven rich-media banners are one of the most extensively used solutions, and companies such as Amazon.com, IBM, Citibank, 3M, and Proctor and Gamble have all run successful campaigns using Enliven’s ad-serving network and technology.

Enliven banners can be created using Macromedia Director, so finding qualified talent to produce them shouldn’t be a problem.

I’ve written about Blue Streak’s E*Banner before (see “Here’s What Will Save Web Advertising”) and since I initially told y’all about the technology, it keeps getting better and better.

The E*Banner actually gives you the ability to deliver mini web sites within a banner. At first, the customer sees what looks like an animated banner. In actuality, it’s a Java-based banner (loading in under 7K) that expands when clicked, opening window-shade-like on the page and allowing the user full interactivity within the space.

Customers can browse catalogs, pick products, and actually purchase those products securely within the banner space. When they’re done they just click a button and the banner “rolls up” to look like a normal GIF banner. Blue Streak’s recently released a construction kit, allowing you to create your own E*banners.

Finally, EC Direct’s EConductor provides multiple channels for your products via email, banners, affiliates, and community sites. Not really as much a banner technology as a way of distributing your merchandising presence, EConductor lets you take your store to your users, presenting them with a “buy” button in a variety of venues.

In addition, EConductor also provides solutions for a full range of E-commerce situations. They call this “Web Centric Ecommerce.” I call it a step toward the way e-commerce will work in the future — distributed, on demand, and in context.

Detours? We don’t need no stinkin’ detours… and your customers don’t, either.

Using the tech for what it’s good for moves you out of the realm of yesterday’s advertising and into the future of how advertising and sales are going to work on the Net now and in the future.

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