What’s Rich About Rich Media?

A few months ago at the Jupiter Online Media Conference, I had a conversation with Nate Elliott, a Jupiter analyst, regarding the recent increase of rich media ads being served industry-wide [Jupiter Research is owned by ClickZ’s corporate parent]. As a guy who’s been pushing rich media ad formats for the past five years, I’m thrilled to see advertisers are starting to take advantage of the approach. The question I posed to Nate was, “When Jupiter says use of rich media ads is increasing, what criteria does it use to determine if an ad is rich or not?”

“Made with Flash,” was his answer.

I should mention I deeply respect Nate, and find him to be one of the most intelligent and insightful analysts working in the area. I should also mention I heartily disagree with him on this point.

In fairness to his perspective, the consideration of classifying rich media goes back a few years to when it was pretty much a choice between GIF-based ads or Flash-based ads. In many cases, Flash ads represented a departure from the “click here and come to our Web site” approach to online marketing.

That’s not always the case today. While Flash is capable of making great interactive ad formats, the Web sites of the world are currently populated with slick looking Flash-based ads. Their aim is to push users to Web pages. If Flash is used to create ads that look and behave like GIF ads, what makes it rich?

An ad needs to incorporate features beyond straight click-through to be considered “rich.” It must offer some kind of interactive experience. This can run the gamut: ads that offer features such as printing out hard copy; ads that offer simple tasks and games; or ads that capture and collect data. How detailed must interactivity be to qualify as rich? Would a Flash ad that incorporates a button with a rollover be defined as interactive? If all it does is lead to a click-through, is that rich media?

To settle the question, I turned to some people I know who think about this on a daily basis. My first call was to John Roswech, Atlas DMT‘s senior director of sales, Eastern region. I asked how he determines if an ad his company serves is rich or not.

He responded that while Flash-based ads comprise almost all ad content the company currently serves, the rich media determination is linked to the ability to measure the ad’s effectiveness in delivering its marketing or branding message. To that point, he continued, interactivity is strongly linked to the ability to determine branding effectiveness.

In simpler terms, creating effective engagements in an interactive framework leads to a stronger, more effective branding experience. It’s a definition I can live with.

My next call was to Bill McCloskey, president and CEO of Emerging Interest, a company that provides wisdom to the online world regarding rich media and other emerging technologies. Bill’s perspective is two-fold. First, he says that in the recent past, Flash-based ads were synonymous with rich media because vector-based technology was equated with rich media. Second, as most ads today are Flash-based, it no longer makes sense to classify them based on the technology, but instead to look at their content.

He went on to say, “It’s all become just media, so why should it matter how it’s classified?” As with other forms of media, such as TV books or movies, variations in ad content can be unique enough to make direct comparisons irrelevant.

Food for thought.

Uncertain, I called Gay Gaddis, president of T3, to get some perspective from the agency side of things. T3 is a full service agency that provides rich media ad services.

According to Gay, when pitching rich media ads to clients her agency stresses they can provide a more powerful branding experience than GIF ads. She adds that rich ads provide a much better opportunity to accurately measure the effect on the target audience. Rich ads that offer polling features such as quizzes and trivia games increase the effectiveness of overall measurability.

What’s not to like?

To compare notes, I next spoke with Harry Gold, managing partner at Overdrive. The company provides interactive marketing solutions. “Besides enhanced animation and presentation,” said Harry, “rich media advertising is about capturing data and delivering information without relying on a click.”

I have no argument with that.

After gathering various perspectives, I seem further than ever from my goal of clearly defining rich media. The good news is rich media is a way of providing interactive content that can be measured. It captures data and makes a greater impact on consumers.

Overall, rich media may best be defined using the same criteria the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used when he pronounced, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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