Embracing the Promise of Interactive Advertising

(Originally published in ClickZ in January, 2000) by Eric Picard

The explosion of rich media advertising in 1999 was just that, and it forced many traditional advertising agencies to evaluate how they could offer this exciting, dynamic interactive medium to their clients. While some successfully made the leap to rich media, too often the alleged limitations of the technology – or simply a fear of it – prevented people from tapping into the wealth of experience they had accumulated through ad creation in broadcast and print, as well as in GIF banners.

When I taught photography classes in graduate school, I once had a student who felt she couldn’t comment on her classmates’ work because she wasn’t a “photographer.” This woman, a talented fabric designer, had a powerful sense of contrast and texture, and was certainly qualified to comment on just about any visual media.

But she ignored her extensive knowledge of design and all her proven design skills because she found herself on uncertain ground. I pointed this out to her, and over the length of the course, she ended up consistently giving other students extremely insightful commentary on their work.

Rich media advertising holds the great promise of increasing both click rates and conversion rates, but only if advertisers consider it as an evolution of advertising solutions, rather than an offering that exists in a void.

In the past year, the underlying technology has evolved and become an easy-to-use solution for creating attention-grabbing, interactive campaigns. The technology now enables advertisers to choose how, when and where to use the medium, depending on the objectives of the ad campaign.

However, the real success of rich media advertising rests squarely in the hands of the creative team that conceptualizes and creates the banners. Currently, very few agencies have figured out how to tap into the full power of rich media to use it for creative, effective ad campaigns.

Simply overlaying GIF-creation mentality is not enough. Creative departments need to approach this new medium with the same vitality and energy that they brought to traditional ad campaigns and standard banners. By doing so, these teams can quickly begin creating rich media campaigns.

Three things advertisers should keep in mind when working with rich media:

Draw on your experience, but don’t allow yourself to be shackled by it. Innovative and unexpected use of the technology is the most important aspect of building effective rich media. In the same way that you begin to ignore the “to do” notes you’ve plastered on your monitor, users stop clicking on ads that use certain “tricks” once the novelty and excitement wear off.

Therefore, you need to continually tweak an ad to keep it fresh and interesting. The most effective way to accomplish this is to tap into previous experiences and put a new twist on them. Do something unexpected. For example, if you’ve gotten great results with dark backgrounds and light text, keep on doing what works, but include a subtle (or not-so-subtle change) to grab the viewer’s attention. Maybe make the shadows move, or create some call to action that invites the viewer to interact with the ad.

Don’t rely on your competition to figure it out for you. Your competitor may have a successful ad campaign, but don’t simply copy what they’ve done. At the same time, don’t ignore their success. Push yourself to experiment with the medium and don’t limit your ideas because no one else has done it. Rich media is still in its infancy, and we will continue to see methods and practices prove themselves over time.

Keep an eye on the future. While so much of the click rate is dependent on great creative, our team at BlueStreak.com has been running experiments to learn methods of improving click rates that are non-specific to the messaging or creative. Basic issues like effective colors and messaging are already well-documented in varying studies of banners. But things that we are learning now will allow us to make automated improvements to any ad – regardless of creative content – in the near future.

In the end, a powerful combination of proven techniques, innovative approaches, scientific methods and new advances will determine what works best with rich media.

In the meantime, advertisers need to take advantage of the great new technologies being developed. If agencies with no rich media experience want to make the move to offering this medium, I would recommend the following: Remember everything you’ve learned creating broadcast, print and GIF banner campaigns. Bring to the new task all your vitality, creativity and well-honed skills. And fully embrace the possibilities of rich media.


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