"I hate those shoot the monkey ads," replied my doctor when I explained to her what I do as the creative director of Advertising.com. Not the nicest bedside manner, but I've heard worse when I tell people that my team creates online ads.
With all the complaints about rich media, some advertisers wonder if it's worth it, especially when you consider the additional hassle of dealing with temperamental creative departments. Before answering, however, it's important to define exactly what it is.
Many publishers consider an ad only to be rich media if it automatically takes over a page, with the user having no control over initiating the intrusive message. But because users will only put up with so much of that intrusiveness, publishers limit the amount of this kind of impression and charge accordingly.
The technical definition of rich media is anything beyond a static .gif or .jpg. Creative folks, though, have their own definition: any cool flash banner that makes people notice (or as our strategists say, "engage the user"). And unlike auto-initiated rich media, regular rich media only expands or starts playing sound when the user approves it with a click or mouseover.
Now that we've defined rich media, here's the answer to the question, "Is it worth it?" Of course it is. In the past month, you've probably seen thousands of online ads. Do you remember any of them? How many did you actually spend more than a nanosecond on? And how many did you click? I'll bet you real dollars to Second Life ones that the ads you interacted with were flash. How big a difference can it make?
Look at the two ads below. Guess which one had a clickthrough rate 14,600 percent (not a typo) greater than the other?
This is not to imply that simply putting something in flash is going to make people say, "Ooh! I've got to click on that and get myself a puppy, a cell phone or a new mortgage." To get users to do that, you need to do the following:
- Make the design simple and intuitive. Don't design something that rivals Playstation 3. Users don't want to work that hard.
- Make sure the message is simple. If they can't figure it out in literally one second, they're moving on.
- Make it work organically with the product. The concept should be in line with what you are selling. Shooting monkeys for a refi loan doesn't make sense. Shooting hockey pucks against the Capitals' new goalie does.
- Don't look desperate. Migraine-inducing graphics only tick people off. Like dating, subtle and attractive works better.
- Build on what has worked before. No need to reinvent the wheel. What worked really well before? What was a complete waste of time? The creative team should have all that information close at hand when concepting a new campaign.
Remember: "Build it and they will come," might be great for a field of dreams, but it does not apply to online ads. You can't assume that just sticking anything up there is going to work. You need to ask yourself if you would, honestly, click on it.
Of course, the greatest ad in the world isn't going to work if it's not seen by the right eyeballs. Conversion and clickthrough rates for the same ad vary wildly from website to website. And while you can make some educated guesses, the only way to really find out what works is to run it on a wide network of sites that optimizes for the metric you're looking for.
Conversely, you can buy the best online real estate out there, but if you're running a real snooze of an ad with a fuzzy message, you're just wasting money -- or even worse, ruining your brand image.
So while getting strong, well-conceived rich media ad banners take extra effort, isn't a 14,000 percent increase in clickthrough rate worth it?
(Note: No digital monkeys were shot in the making of any of these ads.)
Susan Kim is creative director, Advertising.com. .