The Rich Media Ad: A Thing of Beauty

For some, beauty is only skin deep. Superficial suffices. For the rich media unit, beauty must be more than what viewers see on the surface, though what they see in the first second or so had better be beautiful too, in a relevant sort of way.

Let’s explore the a rich media unit’s layers: engagement, interaction, and exit. In doing so, we’ll be able to give viewers beauty and substance in exchange for their time, and perhaps get some conversion while we’re at it.

A rich media ad’s beauty lies in the engagement layer. It’s what the viewer sees in the first couple of seconds. As in traditional offline advertising, 99 percent of an ad’s success is based on how well a viewer’s interest is piqued in the first two seconds. The Web has so much more potential to garner a fruitful relationship than offline advertising. With a rich media ad campaign, (relatively) big money is on the line. Understanding how to succeed at the engagement layer is pretty important.

Let’s start with what not to do.

Amex’s Seinfeld/Superman “Webisodes” are a great example of what not to do. Sheer star power was wielded to get online users to seek out American Express advertising. Getting to the site wasn’t easy; getting into it was even harder. And let’s be honest, who wants to wait for a three-minute video spot to load, other than hopeless Seinfeld fans and hopeless online marketing people (like me)?

When we assume people will endure technology just to be marketed to, we’ve lost our perspective on what people want to see online. How many times have I heard, “Just throw this TV spot on the Web. That’ll get some clicks!” Unfortunately, that happens a lot; the glare of celebrity and the flash of technological innovation blind us to the fact viewers have the power to click away.

A great rich media ad is like a story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is the engagement layer, and the technology that supports it is as fast as viewers demand. It has the right amount of image, copy, movement, and sound.

Once hooked, viewers are ready to be immersed in the ad. This is the interaction layer. They play with it, get some information, give you something of theirs, are rewarded, or just go away. Marketers often try to do too much at this stage. Stick to marketing basics and keep the message simple. The interactions can be fun, complex, and imaginative, but the information you convey must remain simple. Otherwise, you lose people. Information overload sets in, and you train viewers to zone out.

If you’ve been successful with engagement and interaction, you only have to conquer the exit layer and you’ve won gold. This layer is about reward. You’ve created a desire; now you must fulfill it. What do you do? Offer a “click here” or “submit” button. Invite them to go to the Web site or to find out more. Thank them.

Here’s where we shy away from online advertising’s potential. The exit layer should be a reward for the viewer.

The key word is “reward.” That’s why a landing page isn’t always the best next step. Providing a surprising, personalized, relevant experience is. The ability to get more information through an ad unit without leaving the site or a 20 percent discount when you book your travel reservation via the ad is certainly gratifying. If only ad-serving technologies could keep up.

I know what you’re thinking: a customized landing page garners great conversion rates. It’s a classic direct marketing approach, right down to page design. Of course those conversion rates are great — but what are they compared to? Being deposited into some deep link in a site? A product page that was out of the campaign’s scope?

The reality is a customized landing page is the best solution we have now. But many marketers can’t even do that right (here’s some help in that area). Too often, the people who control online marketing efforts don’t control the pages within the Web property. There goes your reward — and that conversion.

Yet there’s more to the rich media experience than just getting people to sign up, purchase, or reserve. It can provide the kind of emotional messaging marketers and consumers love. We have the capacity to measure how users interact with ads, even if they don’t heed our calls to action.

Imagine pure, unconditional interaction is the point of a campaign. If it were possible to have a 10MB ad unit (and some day it will be), who really needs a Web site?

I’m not coming down on conversion rates or landing pages. But let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s take advantage of the medium’s richness. Consider engaging, interacting with, and rewarding the viewer right there in the ad, where you can control the quality of the experience. Consider creating a rich media unit with the purpose of pure (beautiful) brand immersion. Soon enough, technology will get a user through the shopping experience without ever leaving the ad unit. And when it does, we’ll be ready.

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