Custom Ads While You Wait
Perhaps the prime example of custom ads is the recent launch of Microsoft's Windows XP on USAtoday, CNet, AskJeeves and MSN, which included unique units such as user-controlled "window shades" and synchronized animation.
For example, on USAToday we saw a window shade stretched across the entire width of the homepage. The slightly open (read: less intrusive) shade was bobbing up and down ever so gently (read: less intrusive), subtly inviting the curious consumer to open it and take a peek at what's going on "outside."
Ok, I'm a little dubious that many consumers really want to go this far in order to hear Madonna sing and see the world’s first flying man, but that aside, is this the face of online advertising as we move into 2002, or simply Microsoft flexing its financial clout ("...because they can") against a weak seller community?
Alternatively, is this the type of "beyond the banner" thinking that will be required in order to get online advertising on both consumers' and clients' radars? Or the chance to increase the probability of being noticed and possibly guaranteeing that a message will be seen by its intended audience? And if so, what does this do to the standards people who are advocating a fixed set of sizes and specifications in order to make our jobs less complicated?
Perhaps the best place to start is the classic duel between user experience and intrusiveness. The former has always been untouchable, whilst the latter was a derogatory term. Today, much has changed. User experience is still highly important, but it is being evaluated and considered in a more pragmatic way. Intrusiveness, on the other hand, is becoming widely accepted as part of the inevitable maturation process of advertising interacting with consumers. Combine these two trends and you have a vastly different platform on which to work.
Then there’s the customization vs. standardization debate. CBSMarketWatch has been happily turning their pages different colors and plastering their background with branded wallpaper for a while now. Yahoo! has built up a hard-coded display case of personally monogrammed campaigns for its advertisers: iPaq, Pearl Harbor, Ford Explorer, Atlantis, and so on. AskJeeves has given advertisers the opportunity to integrate their brands and creative ideas into their home page and search engine. Is this the rich kid's newest toy? Is it a passing fad? It all contrasts strongly with Net-darling Google, which has strongly resisted modifying its homepage to meet the whims and demands of the buyers. So will Google's high-ground crusade on behalf of integrity, truth and idealism prevail?
I think the answer lies within the rich-media infused DHTML offering - a plane jets across a travel page, causing the text to fly and scatter in its wake, for example. The Good: DHTML goes beyond the banner and gets noticed. The Bad: it is still limited in functionality. The Ugly: Clutter. DHTML seems to be a desperate cry for larger units. Whilst Harry Potter flying around my screen is one of the better examples out there, he could do a much better job if he - and only he - was talking to me. I wonder if there is a spell for making other advertisers disappear?
So which road do we take? The current soft market strongly favors the buyers, but that doesn’t build a one-sided case in favor of customization. It doesn’t mean publishers should abandon all hope of achieving some level of standardization either. Clearly, the answer lies in partnership and collaboration. Yes, these kinds of personalized solutions do favor the rich at the moment, but instead of looking at the glass as half empty ("do we have a choice?") publishers can take the ‘glass is half full’ approach with a blank page and an endless supply of imagination and possibilities.
- Joseph Jaffe is Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, where he works with clients including Kmart, ABSOLUT Vodka, New York City Public Schools, Embassy Suites and Sci-Fi. His primary focus is to highlight interactive's value and benefit in meeting his clients' integrated business and branding objectives.