Make Rich Media Richer

(Originally published in ClickZ, July 2003) by Eric Picard

Last month, I pronounced control the killer app. Let’s discuss how to make use of that knowledge when it comes to the advanced use of rich media.

It isn’t enough to build hot rich media creative to seize user attention. It isn’t enough to follow any one or even several strategic “rules” to get the best results. To squeeze the greatest value out of your interactive efforts, approach your offering from the user’s perspective. Give users as much control as possible. At the very least, don’t make it hard for them to help you achieve your campaign goals.

Back in the days when Bluestreak was primarily a rich media company, I ran our rich media services group. We provided strategy and production. I worked on hundreds of rich media ad campaigns. We learned a lot about what works. At the time, much of that required our proprietary Java technology. Now, Flash supports almost all the things we toiled away on in rich media’s early days.

I no longer consult on rich media creative strategy, so I thought I’d share some insights (given there’s no conflict of interest). Below, how rich media can serve you better than most of what’s online today.

Remove Barriers

Ignore interactive design constraints at your own risk. Far too often, direct response campaigns employ rich media in ways that create barriers to the transaction. In many game ads, for example, a user is required to complete a series of relatively complex actions before gaining access to a form or being able to click to the Web site. This is fine for a branding campaign, but not for direct response.

If the goal is branding and building brand perception, measure as much about the interaction within the ad as possible. Record interaction time, conduct a Dynamic Logic study, track every action taken. This provides a good sense of increase in brand awareness driven by keeping users engaged with the ad.

But for goodness sake, if the goal is to drive traffic or convert users within the ad, don’t erect barriers that keep your audience from achieving your goal. It’s your goal, not theirs. Want to elicit a specific response? Make it easy.

Collect Data Locally

This one blows me away. Plenty of pretty advanced rich media ads collect data. But data is collected on a remote Web site, not within the ad itself. There are huge increases in response when data is captured within the ad rather than on a remote site. Back in the day, we averaged roughly a 70 percent conversion rate for non-credit card transactions within rich media ads.

Part of the increase could certainly be attributed to novelty. Few advertisers were doing this at the time. But much of it has to do with basic human nature. People are unlikely to disrupt what they’re doing to sign up for a newsletter or contest (even if they’re interested). If the conversion can occur right on the same page they want to be on, they’re more likely to convert.

Collecting data in Flash is a simple, straightforward process Flash developers should understand. (If they don’t, the help files are a good place to start. Everything’s clearly explained.) Flash can submit data from an ad to your Web site as easily as you collect it from the site itself. You can even pass data into a Flash file from a remote site using a DNS alias (bounce me an email if you need details) or Flash Remoting.

Create Multipage Ads

Think of a rich media ad as a miniature Web site. There’s no reason to be limited to one page. Flash easily runs multiple “pages” of ads, and even loads multiple Flash files in one main placeholder file. The user experience can be broken into reasonable, bite-sized chunks, all from the same Web page the ad resides on (Warning: Make sure the publisher doesn’t set the page to automatically refresh on a regular basis).

By breaking the ad into multiple Flash files and loading them separately, the file size of each section is low. The ad loads quickly and adheres to the publisher’s size limits. Remember to delay loading additional content until either the page is finished loading (typically less than 10 seconds) or the user clicks within the ad.

Provide Value

Make sure you provide some reason for the user to go through multiple pages of ad content. Too often, rich media use is gratuitous. Each element of creative must be justified from a user perspective:

  • Let the user research your offer. There’s an unlimited number of pages at your disposal. Let the customer research the offer within the ad. Flash can load text files and information files dynamically. Take advantage of it! Use the pages on your Web site dedicated to describing the offer and includethem in the ad rather than popping open a new browser window.
  • Let the user explore. Employ multiple assets to make your case. Rather than build numerous creatives with different purposes, link all creative to the same back end to save money. Again, you can load new Flash as a separate file, so file size limitations aren’t an issue.

    For example, three separate “teaser” ads might attract attention and bring the user into the content. Load the same content into each ad. You could use a tabular interface with one option showing a product video, another providing a product description, a third displaying detailed technical specifications, and a fourth letting users sign up in the ad for more information or a newsletter. Further options might include a print option, chat, customer service or sales callbacks, even full product purchase — all right within the ad.

  • Expand your horizons. Even if you’re not dealing with large-format ads, there’s no reason not to think big. Many publishers let you expand ads right over page content. There’s no reason a 468 x 60 ad can’t expand up to three times the size of the original, providing plenty of room to maneuver.

Don’t Let Cost Stand in the Way

A complex rich media experience will obviously cost more than a simple GIF replacement Flash ad. Even when factoring in the additional cost of rich media production, return on investment should more than justify the expense. Don’t judge results on just a single campaign. You will learn more each time and will likely improve with experience.

Attend conferences, join discussion lists, and feel free to send me questions about your goals. Most of what works well is grounded in common sense. Above all, track everything you possibly can. The data will set you free!


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