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The Strange Mystery of Online Knowledge

The Strange Mystery of Online Knowledge Ezra Palmer

"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
-- Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense

A recent Nielsen//NetRatings study found that 83 percent of RSS users aren't even aware that they are using RSS. Interestingly, though, RSS users, aware or not, are busy surfers, visiting 10.6 websites on average during August, compared to 3.4 among non-RSS users.

The Nielsen study made me wonder what else "we" don't know -- "we" being not just consumers but also marketers, media folks, technologists, and others. So for fun I took a cruise around eMarketer's eStat Database to find out more about the unknowns of internet. 

Guess what: there's a lot we don't know. A search on the term "don't know" in our database came up with nearly 1,000 results. 

There's all kinds of stuff we don't know. Some of it is technical and abstruse, but sometimes it really hits home… literally. Consider this Kaiser survey of kids and teenagers, and how many aren't sure if they have internet access where they live.

Lest you think this lack of knowledge stops at the border, here's what a sampling of Canadian kids had to say when asked how much time they spent online each week.

Of course, kids aren't the only ones who don't know stuff. Adults are in the dark as well. About internet cookies, for instance.

Actually, a lot of adults don't know a lot of stuff, like RSS, phishing, adware, and podcasting.

In fact, some adults aren't even sure how much they use the web for news.

Okay, so this is consumer-oriented data. What about the professionals? Well, it turns out that we don't know a lot of stuff either.

What's interesting about the data in the chart below is not that 15 percent of direct marketers don't know what their online budget will look like next year. Instead, take a look at the almost one in five who didn't know how much it changed last year.

Here's data from a separate study. One in ten marketers don't know where the money is coming from to pay for increased online marketing.

Again, this is not just an American phenomenon. Consider this survey of UK decision makers and their attitudes about online advertising. More than a third just don't know.

It's not just marketing that has us guessing. Consider the US CIOs who don't know what their top priority is.

What does it all mean? I could take the easy route and simply say, "I don't know."

But actually, this data is a good reminder that absolute certainty is not an option in life. As John Wanamaker said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don't know which half."

The internet offers up extraordinary tools for knowledge -- for tracking content usage, advertising impact, and costs. But there will still be times when we don't know the answers, when the data is incomplete, when we have to say "I don't know" and go with our guts.

Ezra Palmer is editorial director of eMarketer, the "first place to look" for market research information related to the Internet, e-business, and online marketing.

Campaign: Alice in Wonderland
Creative agency: Werbewelt
Advertiser: Disney
Ad format: Homepage takeover

Who knew that a routine visit to the MSN homepage could whisk users through a delightful trip to Wonderland? The Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat greet users from the top corner of the screen, and with just one click, users are transported to a full-screen pop-up book that plays the trailer of "Alice in Wonderland."

This whole experience is artfully executed, from the vistas of Wonderland that adorn the wallpaper ad surrounding the content to the use of a pop-up book that brings "Alice in Wonderland" to life. The use of a pop-up book also mimics the 3-D experience of the film. Overall, the entire full-screen experience dazzles and conveys the creativity and imagination of the movie. Users who were expecting a standard homepage were rewarded instead with an enchanting experience.

Campaign: Canon SOHO     
Creative agency: Dentsu US
Advertiser: Canon
Ad format: Homepage takeover

How's this for an attention grabber? Users were surprised to discover Entrepreneur.com loaded in low-quality black and white format. But before users have an opportunity to check the color settings on their monitor, something starts happening at the leaderboard on top. An invisible color printer prints out the same webpage in color that replaces the shabby black and white version.

Why is this ad serendipity-ready?
Chapeau to Canon for taking something as mundane as a color printer and portraying it in such a vivid and creative manner. It's an excellent execution of an ad that still appeals to users even after multiple exposures.

More importantly, this ad is both highly visible and conveys a message. It is unlikely that anyone who visited Entrepreneur.com has not noticed this ad. The first few seconds captures the user's attention with a black and white play that is subtle and nonintrusive.

This is an effective way for Canon to deliver its message because the contrast between the black and white content and the color content shows all the advantages of a high-quality color printer. Yet, regardless of how impressive an ad is, advertisers know that consumers won't buy a printer based on one ad. Consumers want to be informed and make the right decision, so Canon takes it a step further and makes a powerful call to action by inviting users to enter its sweepstakes.

Campaign: Avatar DVD release
Creative agency: thinkjam UK / AvatarLabs
Advertiser: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Ad format: Expandable banner

It starts with a combination of a wallpaper ad and a pushdown banner, depicting the landscapes of Pandora, the fantastical planet on which the movie takes place. Users are instantly transported back to the familiar setting and encouraged to engage with the interactive video.

Interactive video is one of the more interesting features that online display advertising has to offer. Unlike the traditional passive and linear video, interactive video lets users decide what is going to happen next. Users can click on figures and get more information on them.

Why is it serendipity ready?
It's a safe bet that most users have seen or are familiar with "Avatar", the highest grossing film in history, so a DVD campaign that features a standard movie trailer is unlikely to generate a lot of mouse strokes.

The ad is able to quickly capture the user's attention with a push-down banner that quickly expands and collapses at the first few seconds when the ad is presented. It's a clear call to action. It's important to note that a call to action doesn't automatically equate success. Often, a banner needs to do more than invite the users. The invitation should persuade and entice users to want to engage even further.

A call-to-action that incorporates all of these elements is an important lever that an advertiser can use. Research by MediaMind shows that a call to action increases the likelihood of users playing user-initiated video by 20 percent.

There are two main advantages for using interactive video for this ad. First, it provides new content for those who have already seen the movie by enabling a deeper engagement as compared to regular video. Second, the interactive video warrant users to use their mouse, while the "order now" button facilitates impulse purchase.

Campaign: 2012 movie premier 
Advertiser: Sony Pictures
Media agency: Universal McCann
Creative agency: Red Interactive
Ad format: Floating ad
Advertiser: Sony Pictures

As soon as the homepage loads, two meteors shoot out of nowhere with an explosive bang and blow up the screen. Out of the wreckage the words "2012 in theaters tomorrow" appear prominently across the screen. The whole scene disappears after about five seconds, the debris is removed, and the site returns to its normal view.

There's a reason why this is not the most subtle creative ad on the list. "2012" is a disaster movie about the end of the world that appeals mostly to a target audience of young males. Movie makers know that this is a competitive audience, who are also typically tech savvy. A flashy and loud ad like this gets the point across and addresses the right target group. A more subtle creative would have achieved a significantly lower breakthrough.

Why is this ad serendipity-ready?
This ad is different as it does not wait to be discovered by users, but rather tracks users and hunts them down. In approximately five seconds, the audience is exposed to the general plot of 2012 -- one that involves fire, destruction, and disaster. Users that like this genre are instantly pumped to watch the trailer, and those that don't only lost a few seconds of their time.

Campaign: Chocapic  
Creative agency: ZED Digital FR
Advertiser: Nestle
Ad format: Expandable banner

Chocolate dreams begin with this French ad for Nestle's Chocapic, which starts as a wallpaper ad with an MPU that smothers the homepage in chocolate. The real fun, though, begins after you click on the ad. First, the user can select how they would like to play the game, either with a mouse or by using their head via webcam.

Once all settings have been finalized, the entire homepage is transformed into a giant video game. Users can then use their heads or mouse to tilt bricks and move a ball to its intended destination. The game can be played as many times as the user wants.

Why is this ad serendipity ready?
This is the most creative ad example for a display ad. Since the intended audience is young kids, the interactive feature of a game is a winning solution.

Two main aspects make this ad stand out from other online game ads. First, as with some of the other ads that we reviewed, the combination of a wallpaper ad with an MPU makes the whole setting visible and attractive. When users load the page, they see a different look to the MSN homepage.

Second, the ability to play a game with one's own head using a webcam makes it especially fun and engaging, particularly for kids. This ad transforms the webpage to a fully fledged gaming site and, ultimately, creates a great brand experience.

In this case, serendipity also presents a problem. In display advertising, the accidental discovery does not allow you to trace your steps back and find the ad again. With this ad, you might find yourself refreshing the French MSN homepage, hoping to be lucky and find it again.

Campaign: Tostitos
Ad format: Homepage takeover

Imagine a serene vegetable garden with invigorating salsa music playing. Enter a beautiful salsa dancer, coming down onion-made steps holding a hand fan. As she dances through the garden, she slices the fresh garlic cloves, peppers, and tomatoes. The sliced vegetables fly out of the banner, onto the publisher's content. Finally, the entire picture swirls into a jar of Tostitos salsa.

Why is this ad serendipity-ready?
Users who arrive to the homepage see a wallpaper ad featuring a luscious vegetable garden, one that is visually different and unexpected from the RealSimple.com homepage. The wallpaper ad also focuses the user's gaze to the leaderboard at the top of the page, and specifically on the MPU in the middle that contains the expandable ad.

Another feature that works to the advantage of Tostitos is that the ad is a roll-over rather than a click to play. MediaMind research has shown that video ads that use roll-over rather than click have twice the video-started rate. This means that users generally avoid clicks, and a roll-over increases the chances for users to experience the full ad.

Ultimately, the ad conveys everything that you would like to know about salsa. It is made of fresh garlic, peppers, and tomatoes that are chopped by a loving hand, all to a fun salsa beat. How mouthwatering is that?

Serendipity best describes the way in which users experience online display advertising. Users browse the web to interact with the publishers' content. If they find an interesting ad, they might engage with it and start discovering the brand. The ads described in this piece demonstrate a few powerful levers that creative agencies can use through serendipity and encourage users to discover their ads. Here are some key points to remember.

  • Make ads visible. Users aren't there looking for your ads.

  • Place a visible call to action. Users aren't psychic.

  • Convey the essence of your brand in your banner.

  • Make it fun, engaging, and rewarding to discover.

From vegetables chopped to the tunes of salsa to web pages printed in color right in front of your eyes, ads that are worth discovering can linger and influence a user long after they've logged off.

Ariel Geifman is principal research analyst and Amir Dori is an interactive specialist and creative producer at MediaMind.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Ezra Palmer heads eMarketer’s editorial group, managing a team of researchers, interviewers, writers, analysts, forecasters and editors as they collect, analyze and contextualize data from thousands of research sources worldwide for the...

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