Rich Media Reality Check

Online advertising has been sold for a decade now. Rich media is even newer. It’s always a headliner at industry conferences. It’s constantly preached, debated and argued.

Whether you are a brand marketer, advertiser, sales rep, statistician or a vendor in the space, you have to admit rich media is hot. However, it seems as if there is a lot of banter going back and forth. Sometimes it’s all talk and no action.

So I decided to seek out some of the top vendors, to scratch below the surface of issues facing the online advertising space today. Let me just tell you, these guys are busy, busy, busy (see the list at the end of this article)!  Here’s the topline of what they had to say:

Is broadband critical to the adoption and acceptance of rich media?

I was surprised that not many of these leaders said it was critical. While the stats vary, broadband is reaching more and more homes, and is currently at about 40 percent penetration. All agree it’s the best way to view ads.

But Gal Trifon of Eyeblaster cautioned, “Do not ignore narrowband users. Design ads and content around both broad and narrowband in order to obtain an effective reach.”

What’s hot and why?

Across the board, everyone said video is hot.

Bob Rice of Viewpoint says, “Clearly video has gotten everyone’s attention. I have never witnessed more advertiser interest in a graphic type in my career until now. Flash ads never created a firestorm in the industry. People liked the format because it yielded results for them. People are comfortable with video; it’s the format they’ve been working in for all these years.

“We need to do more than repurpose commercials. I think we are going to start to see a demand for a higher caliber of creative people, more branding opportunities, comfort with the medium, and a perfect bridge from most any offline medium to online in the next year.”

Is interactivity important?

Interactivity is what makes rich media and online media great. Advertisers need to push the edges of the envelope here.

James O’Brien of Pointroll says, “Interactivity is what separates the Web from other mediums. Take a look at the surge of time spent and popularity in online gaming. These players are spending a tremendous amount of time interacting with an advertiser’s brand. Dynamic content is also a key element to interactivity. The ability to give users the opportunity to upload real-time market information in financial services ads, or viewing cars in 360-degree angles while picking out your color is the power of the medium.”

Why is rich media only 17 percent of all online ads today?

Most agree that it’s because online advertising is new and rich media is even newer. They all see explosive growth in the space. No one really thinks adoption is slow. Many mention video and advergaming as entrees into the medium.

Byron Biggins of Commflash had a lot to say about this issue: “I see it as an opportunity. However, we must recognize that there are a few obstacles toward gaining advertisers. First, many brand marketers haven’t yet grasped the fact that rich media ads can provide a large brand awareness level and uplift. They think of online as a place to merely collect data. Secondly, many direct response advertisers shy away due to the price. However, they may be paying two to three times the CPM but the ads are often five to 10 times more effective. Rich media needs to make sense for ROI-driven advertisers as well as brand advertisers alike.”

What’s the secret to an effective rich media campaign?

Ivan Intel echoes that. He says, “Creative relevancy is key. The secret of rich media is the same as with any other media: To say the right thing, the right way, at the right time, to the right person. This all boils down to engaging the user. Rich media must be innovative by its core definition or it simply loses its richness.”

Do we have the right standards in place -- and who should set them?

Most think we do not know enough about the industry and what users are responsive to in order to properly create standards. Sixty-five percent of all sites are now compliant with the new Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) rich media guidelines. Guidelines seem to be good at this time, but standards could hinder creativity.

I played devil’s advocate as a media person and voiced my gripes about multiple sizes and specs. I got an overwhelming bunch of nodding heads. These firms do not want advertisers to have to incur additional fees to reproduce units. Many will help if you ask (*wink*).

“At DoubleClick, we work with the IAB on establishing standards. Keep in mind that standards are valuable and restricting at the same time,” says Scott Spencer. “The only standards that will persist are ones that provide more value than the alternative of not following them. The benefit of standards is that they make the purchasing process easier. In advertising, however, agencies and advertisers want to stand out and use novel approaches. Standards can only take hold when the value in terms of facilitating the transaction is greater than the value of breaking the standard for a new creative.”

What's the bottomline of the topline?

I am so happy I tapped into these folks. They all, in their own way, possess a true passion for the industry. Most were accessible and thankful for the opportunity. The bottom line is, rich media is still hot and will continue to be.

It’s up to us to make it sizzle.

I’d like to thank the executives from seven companies who spent a great amount of time emailing and chatting with me for this article. They were: Eric Picard, director of product management, Bluestreak; Byron Biggins, VP of sales and marketing, Commflash; Scott Spencer, VP of DART Product Management, DoubleClick DART Motif; Gal Trifon, president and CEO,  and Corey Kronengold, manager of corporate communications, Eyeblaster; Michael Q. Griffin, EVP of sales and marketing, Eyewonder; Charles Ruderman, Klipmart; James O’Brien, director of marketing, Pointroll; Jason Griswold, VP of Sales, Unicast; Mookie Tenembaum, founde,r and Ivan Entel, chief of staff, United Virtualities; Bob Rice, executive chairman, Viewpoint.

Seana Mulcahy is president of Brand Truth. She formerly held posts on both the client and agency side of the fence and has been creating online brands since before the first banner was sold. Her expertise includes online and traditional media planning and buying, email marketing, viral marketing, click-stream analysis, customer tracking, promotions, search engine marketing and launching brands online for both agencies and clients. Prior to Mullen, Seana was vice president of media services at Carat Interactive. She's launched and promoted brands including VW, Ocean Spray, McDonald's, British Airways, Symantec, CMGi, Four Seasons,, Nextel, SmithKline Beecham, Pfizer, Titleist/FootJoy/Pinnacle, 3M, AT&T, Sprint, and Radio Shack. She's built online media services divisions for three companies and has worked with clients spanning financial, telecom, high-tech, automotive, healthcare and retail. She has taught, lectured and written about the industry for numerous trade associations and publications.

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