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4 rich media myths worth busting

Catherine Spurway
4 rich media myths worth busting Catherine Spurway

Savvy marketers know engaging creative increases interaction rate, time spent, and engagement, but still only 5 percent of online ads today include some form of rich media.

Although a recent comScore study shows that less than 0.1 percent of users click through standard online display ads, the web is flooded with static GIF and JPEG ads, as well as basic Flash that only allows consumers to click through to a site. This is a missed opportunity for marketers investing significant dollars on what are often irrelevant impressions -- media sitting on the periphery of content that goes unnoticed and un-clicked.

There are several myths and debates about when and why brands should use rich media, with measurement, conversion, reach, and cost being key considerations. Is an interaction equivalent to a click-through? How does it ultimately relate to conversion? What are the benefits of rich media, and why should you incur the additional creative costs to produce it? Consumer expectations for online advertising have changed, and so have the possibilities for high-performing, creative executions. As marketers struggle to provide content consumers want, what was once the standard no longer applies, and so marketers should adapt to new strategies and capabilities that rich media offers for engagement, reach and measurable campaign success.

Myth 1: Click-through alone can measure the success of rich media
Although click-through rates for rich media exceed those of standard and Flash formats, using click-through as the key metric of success is outdated.

It is important to think of rich media as a "traveling microsite" and evaluate success as you would for your website: measuring views, interactions, activities, time spent, and clicks on key activities. You would base the success of your site not only by how many users land there, but how they interact with and consume site content. Rich media creates an extension of your site and integrates activities that engage and influence versus flat images that simply point consumers to other destinations.

CVS Pharmacy created an in-banner circular that enables users to browse local product and pricing information, create and print a shopping list, and find their nearest store without requiring a click-through. This rich, interactive ad experience extends the reach of the CVS circular site and has been successful in driving consumers to the store.

Radio Shack also effectively illustrated this notion with a holiday campaign that enabled consumers to create a recipient-specific shopping list and email it to themselves or a friend, creating a brand reminder and second touch point post-interaction and without requiring a click-through.

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Myth 2: Rich media should only be used for branding initiatives
There is a common misperception that rich media and other interactive digital formats should be relegated to branding initiatives. However, rich media can drive response by leveraging features such as data collection, printable coupons, lead generation forms, and ticket purchasing -- all from within the banner.

For example, the Pfizer Chantix My Time to Quit smoking cessation campaign featured data collection that captured thousands of emails within the banner, exceeding the number captured on the site. One.org built upon a strong video campaign by including an immediate direct response sign up within the ad, reducing the path to conversion.

The key to a successful direct response rich media campaign is understanding your response mechanism. Marketers may mistake click-through as the only direct response metric, when in fact the goal of capturing a lead, downloading information, or performing some other key response activity can be accomplished within an expandable execution. Including response mechanisms in-banner effectively brings the site conversion to the user, complementing the larger website effort.

Myth 3: Rich media campaigns are expensive, especially in the current economy
When you do the math for rich media performance, increased engagement with consumers indicates a much greater return on investment. For example:

Additionally, several publisher sites including AOL, MySpace, Yahoo, iVillage and MSN participate in provider programs that allow you to run rich media with no incremental ad serving cost when you meet a minimum media CPM. In effect, your media cost is the same whether you are running a Flash or rich media execution.

From a production standpoint, cost efficiencies can be gained in leveraging existing video, web assets, and content, or utilizing rich media provider tools that allow you to dynamically create and target interactive rich media ads on-the-fly. This saves creative teams from producing multiple individual ads, and media teams from having to traffic them.

For example, Ford Parts and Service leverages dynamically generated campaigns in real time that swap in different offers and images based on geography. The ads also include targeting and a unique click-through that drives consumers to their local dealers.


Myth 4: Many publishers do not accept rich media ads
Reach can be a factor in determining the use of rich media. However, thousands of sites accept rich media, including many of the major publisher sites as well as smaller niche sites. Rich media providers can also work directly with the sites marketers want to target to test and certify them to accept rich media.

Alternatively, marketers can leverage interactive functionality with non-expanding rich formats. A great example is Kellogg's Special K "Jeans" campaign which incorporated interactive video. Promoting the Special K Challenge, this ad asked consumers what "moves" they use to get into their jeans. Users could then input their "move," such as "hula," and the video would take that specific action within the ad unit. 

Many publishers are also extending their reach to mobile devices. The iPhone already supports expandable formats with video, tap to call, and data collection capabilities. Networks including Millennial Media and AdMob, and sites such as ESPN, USAToday and AOL already accept expandable rich media for the iPhone.

One of the best executed iPhone campaigns has been Levi's Dockers motion-sensitive campaign developed by OMD and Razorfish leveraging Medialets' technology. The first of its kind, the Dockers ad enabled users to truly engage with the brand by shaking the iPhone, causing the video within to react.

In the future, more rich executions featuring video will emerge on the iPhone, such as the Jaguar iPhone campaign launched this month. Publishers know that rich media ads perform, resulting in their increased availability across the web and a move to create larger formats and custom page integrations.

As the number of U.S. internet users climbs, agencies and marketers must break through the increasing online clutter, foregoing basic banner ads for conversion-driving rich media to meet campaign goals. Rich media interactive display ads provide the engagement and reach that marketers need, at a lower cost than expected while producing a greater return and ultimately increasing sales.

Catherine Spurway is VP of strategy & marketing at PointRoll.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: dana brook

2009, June 26

Your article is fine but it's misleading that you talk about four myths and start with four bulleted highlights. I thought you were saying those were the myths. If I hadn't gone back and read more closely...

People skim...

Commenter: masn masn

2009, June 26

On behalf of agency teams who try to leverage rich media for their clients and often face pushback in the areas you list, thank you! You've provided some solid rationale (and examples!) and data that will help make the case.

Some of the headwinds faced by agencies are created themselves including: - Overselling the impact of these units. - Going down the bright, shiny objects route and create rich units that have gratuitous animation and features. - Poor execution where the above bright shiny objects get in the way of campaign goals (e.g. CTA is buried after a lengthy animation) - Failure to plan for and execute on available data to optimize units to perform - Lack of project management that results in late creative, which I believe is more prevalent in the rich world, than the Flash/GIF world.

If agencies get their acts together on the above points, impacts and reputation of rich units will only grow.