What Rich Media Advertisers Can Learn From Search Engines


Paid search is expected to outpace display advertising by 2010, according to Jupiter Research. The lead analyst on the report says, ‘While immediate sales is the top goal for a majority of the marketers who use paid search, the benefits of paid search in branding and purchase decision or research processes will become more evident as well.’

One main reason why search marketing is so effective for advertisers is its locked-in efficiencies. The other, often overlooked (yet painfully obvious) reason for its effectiveness is that search yields an answer to a consumer’s question. In other words, it gives people what they’re looking for in a purely informational, practical manner.

Imagine if we spent as much time making rich media work for the consumer as we do making it sing, dance, whoop, and holler at the consumer. The tools are rapidly becoming available to actually enhance Flash-laden creative with a fully engaging, even helpful experience. That makes it more likely they’ll interact with the ad and get closer to the desired action.

Here are some tools and technologies you’d better look into right now, if you haven’t already:


RSS (or really simple syndication) (define) feeds have become the standard for syndicating content across the Internet. They power MyYahoo, personalize Google homepages, and are the way many Web users are able to keep up with the myriad sites they regularly frequent. Dynamically-generated headlines have found their way into the ad space not just through advertising within feeds, but by advertisers putting feeds in their ads to keep them timely. BBC News has done this to increase click-through rates on ads featuring breaking news, with great results. By making the ads dynamic, they’re always fresh. There’s no need to deploy new rounds of creative with every breaking story.


APIs (or application program interfaces) can enable one program (for our purposes, an ad) to interface with the capabilities of another. Google has opened up many of their most successful initiatives as APIs to allow individuals to create completely customized applications. People have developed Web applications to overlay bathroom locations on Google Maps, link traffic cams to those same maps, and utilized Google’s spell-check feature to auto-correct text fields. While many Google APIs are limited to non-commercial use, acquiring commercial licenses of other APIs can allow advertisers to partner with other companies to create robust applications that deliver engaging experiences to consumers above and beyond what Flash or video can offer. API developers and advertisers should look at ways to enhance rich media advertising.

Targeted Video Advertising

It’s taken a while to get enough index-able video content out there, but video search is finally maturing. Audiences can view exactly the video they want to see. They can even preview a video, or see individual frames, just to make sure. How can this be applied to rich media? Well, as advertisers and marketers, we’re paid to anticipate what consumers want. We make those judgments based on their demographic and psychographic profiles, their behavior, and their personal tastes. We must find ways to efficiently deliver video to audiences with best chance of wanting to see it. Contextual relevancy is a nice temporary solution, but technology will eventually allow us to fine-tune video delivery to the individual.

Toolbars, Desktop Search, and Customization

It’s interesting how much we can learn from applications with the ability to block advertising. Nearly every major search engine offers a downloadable application. Whether a toolbar, desktop search application, or VoIP interface, these serve as extensions of what search engines are supposed to be: facilitators of information-finding and communication. By breaking through the artificial limits of in-page/in-stream advertising, advertisers can deliver tools consumers can actually use — and brand themselves in the process. We recently launched a campaign to support HBO’s ROME that allowed audiences to customize their Firefox browser with a theme featuring imagery from the series. As the popularity of the series grows, so do downloads of that theme. It’s a practical, yet completely branded extension of an experience.


Blogs re-educated the online ad industry on the benefits of consumer collaboration. Blog search engines (i.e. Technorati, IceRocket) give us insight into what bloggers are blogging about, the feedback their readers leave, and where to find it all. When coming up with the next big rich media concept (and in the face of all this Web 2.0 I keep hearing so much about), we must re-open a dialogue with the consumer. The interactivity afforded by rich media can facilitate this collaborative environment. Let that sit for a while. I’ll revisit it in my next column.

Creativity is king when it comes to getting noticed, but when it comes to getting heard, it always helps to deliver a message your audience is receptive to. The best way to ensure you’re doing that is to look at what your audience is doing. They’re searching. Learn from that behavior, and use rich media give them the experience, information, and interactivity that they’re looking for — even if they don’t realize it yet.


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