Words are important. Some words fully and accurately capture the scope of their subject in year one as well as they do in year one thousand. Others become outdated and can actually limit those that hinge their identity on them, hindering growth and unnecessarily leaving a lot of opportunities on the table.
Such is the case for the term "rich media."
Why is the term no longer working for the interactive ad industry? How can it? "Rich media" was first coined in late 1999 by publishers looking to define any online ad with a file size larger than 30 to 40K, (the standard file size that most publisher ad serving platforms are limited to handle). Since that time, third-party providers like EyeWonder have risen to prominence with new technologies and serving capabilities that enable advertisers to deliver far more compelling and interactive ad campaigns than publishers' ad servers could ever handle on their own.
Accordingly, Wikipedia has more recently defined rich media as "a broad range of interactive digital media that exhibit dynamic motion, taking advantage of enhanced sensory features such as video, audio and animation." Unfortunately for our industry, definitions like this can also be applied to any rich media that appears online, including on websites. In fact, most current interactive industry award events utilize the term rich media to describe their websites, not interactive advertising, and instead lump advertising into one big "display advertising" bucket.
It's clear that rich media is a term that is not clearly defined and understood (even within the industry) and is at best a catch-all for an ever-widening array of interactive media.
Findings of an anonymously fielded online survey of online advertising influencers conducted by EyeWonder in March 2008 highlights the inadequacies and confusion within the industry. The survey revealed that:
- 62 percent of the respondents agree that the term "rich media" is too "generic and meaningless."
- 66 percent of industry execs surveyed did not believe that "rich media" accurately defined today's online video ads.
- 76 percent of agency executives did not believe it to be an adequate term to cover "emerging platforms" -- mobile, IPTV, etc.
- 68 percent agreed that a new category name for "rich media" is needed (term "rich media" doesn't capture where digital advertising is headed in the next five years; it is too generic/meaningless).
- 92 percent of agency influencers had a positive to neutral opinion of the term "Interactive Digital Advertising," finding it more accurate than "rich media."
One of the foremost problems with rich media is that it is at once limitless and limiting. This was strongly supported by our research: No two people define it the same way, even within the interactive advertising industry. Expectations of its outcome and impact differ, creating tension among the brand development, marketer, publisher, and creative and media agency stakeholders. A lack of clear and consistent communication among all of the stakeholders often leads to confusion, which can hinder forward progress and growth. I think all the stakeholders would agree that this is bad for business!
The more questions you ask surrounding what is and what is not rich media, the clearer the answers become. Is in-stream a part of rich media? Are video ads delivered to mobile devices rich media? Will new custom ad formats developed by companies like Yahoo, Google or EyeWonder automatically fall under rich media? Does rich media include interactive ads delivered to other digital devices? (I'm guessing that your answers are probably identical to ours.)
We are no longer in 1999. Interactive advertising's creative, delivery and measurement opportunities have all dramatically evolved and improved; it is time for the category's name to catch up with the tremendous capabilities it now offers.
As we move into the next century of advertising, let's dump that which hinders creativity and embrace Interactive Digital Advertising.