The Three Components of Successful Rich Media Ads

I had the privilege of moderating a session on Rich Media Market Trends at AdTech in San Francisco recently. While the panel might not have broken any major new ground, it did clarify aspects of rich media advertising and help determine paths toward effective online marketing in general.

The panel consisted of longtime rich media vets Allie Savarino of Unicast; Paul Kadin with Eyeblaster; and Dynamic Logic’s Michelle Kann.

The first point they made is that rich media really isn’t a “what.” It’s more a “how.” Because of the many different factors that fall under the rich media banner, including video, audio, interactivity and animation, finding one distinct classification is close to impossible. In truth, most statistics used to track rich media advertising these days still define rich media as anything that isn’t a GIF. While I have qualms with this, I will acknowledge it’s a jumping off point.

The panel was able to agree that rich media ads (in fact, any online ads) must address three factors in order to be successful: suitable ad formats, clear marketing objectives and targeted ad placement. Like a three legged stool, if any one is left out of the ad planning phase, the campaign won’t stand up. Let’s address each factor separately.

Ad Formats

What’s the best format to use for your rich media campaign? Well, what are your marketing goals? Who are the people you’re trying to reach? How often will the ads run? What products or services are you offering? The short answer is it depends.

Ad formats are like car designs. What appeals to one shopper may not appeal to another. Buyers must consider a whole range of product characteristics, such as design, function and cost. No single vehicle type will meet the needs or desires of every car shopper. To that point, no single ad will appeal to all consumers. The difference in ad formats helps determine which consumers see the ads.

IAB research has shown larger ad formats often get greater results (for a time) in terms of simply grabbing attention. However, smaller animated ad formats can also attract attention, as can banner ads that focus on interactivity. Over page ads are successful for many advertisers. Again, the appeal of these formats depends on who sees them.

Overall, there’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding which ad formats to use. The current wisdom is to use more than one format for a campaign. Often, the criteria are as simple as following the media buyer’s lead.

Marketing goals

Determining the goal of an online ad or campaign should be the first step in any planning meeting. The basic rule of thumb is to ask, “What is it that we want this ad to communicate to the consumer?” From there, design, tweak and place the ad so the goal is addressed as well as it possibly can be.

Determining the marketing goals to measure also means having a clear understanding of who the target demographic is; what the ad is expected to accomplish; and how data tags will be incorporated in the ad so those events or actions can be measured. A rich media ad that can print out a brochure will need to incorporate code that tallies the number of people who printed. Without measuring this factor, the campaign goal is lost.

Also, make sure all minds working on the ad are focused in the same direction. For agency people working with advertisers, this conversation must take place on day one. There are few things more unsettling than trying to soothe an irate client who’s discovered that a campaign carefully crafted to encourage consumers to print out a brochure is a dog when it comes to driving traffic.

Ad Placement

I think of the old real estate investment adage, “location, location, location,” when considering the importance of media placement. A successful campaign will require some careful planning regarding target audiences and consumer behaviors. Any successful campaign must get in front of not just people, but the right people. There are plenty of media buyer disaster stories about campaigns that ran almost entirely on Web site back pages, jump pages, error pages and all sorts of other tertiary inventory that’s the equivalent of Internet swampland. And many campaigns have taken a specialty product and presented it on general interest portals — to the detriment of the campaign.

Bottom line: determine who the campaign is for, then use all your resources to make certain those people will come in contact with your ad.

Volumes can be written about each of these success factors. Often, plain old common sense can make a difference in how well an ad does in the marketplace. In other cases, dumb luck can allow creative to shine. Remember the seven P’s of advertising: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pathetically Poor Performance. Plan your work, then work your plan.

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