WhenU Debuts Custom-Shaped Ads

Adware firm WhenU is debuting a custom-shaped ad format utilizing rich media in which the size and shape of ads depends almost entirely upon the advertisers’ dictates.

WhenU Desktop Product Placement Platform ads use Flash animation and will appear mostly as pop-unders in response to a user’s displayed interest in a product or service. An ad for a telephone plan might be in the shape of a telephone, or a soft drink ad might be shaped like a bottle. Though these are not the first irregularly shaped ads to appear online, the format is new for WhenU.

The company has signed up ten clients for the new format so far. The list includes an entertainment company that scored a 10 percent clickthrough rate, according to Scott Greenberg, VP of WhenU’s sales channel partnerships. (Generally, WhenU claims clickthrough rates of 3 to 10 percent.) A consumer packaged goods company has also used the format, Greenberg said. He would not give the names of the companies involved.

The entertainment campaign was looking to drive awareness around a TV program, Greenberg said. “The ad was in the form of a TV and one of the characters in the show was in the screen,” he said. The ads disappear when the user clicks on the “X” in the ads.

The company is currently pitching a variety of custom ads to various companies. One includes an audio ad in the shape of a mixing machine consumers can use to mix music, play games and download tunes. The rich media format is “basic Flash, simple and straightforward,” Greenberg said. The ads appear when a user demonstrates an interest in the area, perhaps by visiting a related Web site.

Since its 1999 launch, WhenU has offered only conventionally shaped ads, many of which are delivered in pop-up or pop-under form. The ads are distributed to a network of 25 million active users who downloaded WhenU’s software with other software such as free screensavers.

This distribution method has caused WhenU to be lumped in with spyware [define] in the past. However, WhenU maintains that users are notified when its programs are being installed, and that they are easy to uninstall. Spyware is often unknowingly downloaded and installed.

WhenU has been involved in litigation related to its pop-up ads. Also, in April, WhenU filed suit against the state of Utah, saying its new anti-spyware statute is unconstitutional and limits companies’ rights to commercial speech.

Both WhenU and fellow adware company Claria have taken action to move toward greater acceptance, with Claria filing for an initial public offering in April. WhenU has Fortune 500 companies as clients and claims to have 400 advertisers and a 90 percent advertiser renewal rate.

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