Commentary

Is That A Skyscraper In Your Pocket?

In a recent column in the Online Spin, my esteemed colleague Jim Meskauskas mentioned that "Bigger is better… but only to a point." He wrote, “We've seen better recall and response rates when we use larger ad units on the Web. There is no doubt that the size of the canvas has a direct impact on the effectiveness of your advertising. But at some point, efficiencies are lost. In the print world, for example, spreads are more effective than single pages, but they aren't 2x more effective even though they usually cost twice as much. The beauty of the interactive ad medium is that we can gather data that tells us just how much is too much.”

I have to believe that until we move well beyond the 1/9th of a screen banner offerings, we'll remain in a space equivalent to the classifieds section at the back of a magazine.

A full screen ad is the closest apples to apples comparison with a full page or a television ad. Anything smaller becomes a subjective and fallible assessment in terms of measuring "effectiveness" - which only brings into the picture the even more complicated definition of success.

Moving traditional brand indicators from association to favorability to intent to purchase takes time, and should not be confused with the more direct response-driven measurements and metrics.

Whilst the recent Microsoft XP creatives were certainly not full-screen, they did meet the requirement of owning a large enough portion of the screen to assure some degree of confidence that the message was "seen" by its intended audience.

But this surely is the exception, rather than the norm. And let's not forget the standardization storm in the teacup that it creates.

In addition, a vital part of the discussion in the search for the Holy Grail of Interactive creative units is to acknowledge that advertising is both a science and an ART. Gathering data at a granular pixel level reduces what would otherwise be an expression of art to that of a dissected frog in a biology lab.

Whilst a spread might not be twice as effective as a full page in cost terms, there is something to be said about the quality of incremental response that is garnered from the increased real estate. Some might argue that this is more of a necessity than an optional extra in an already extremely cluttered space.

On a related note, I am intrigued by comparisons between online and print in terms of establishing familiar benchmarks and recognizable placements. Case in point: the back cover of a magazine. Studies show how the back cover of a magazine is the second viewed part of the publication (naturally after the cover) It’s also the way men read publications from back cover inwards. So what’s the online equivalent? Perhaps it’s the screen immediately following a log-in….

Another example is the media solution of consecutive right-hand pages – a technique used successfully in print. The online equivalent here is possibly the expression of wrap-around sessions (like those piloted by the New York Times), which follow the user as they move from page to page, and article to article.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the print arena, which may or may not be able to be implemented in the online space. I’d like to hear from some of the print veterans with some additional ideas and suggestions.

As an industry member passionate about the success of this business, I am all for embracing the core interactive tenants, such as data, measurement and the ability to learn or optimize in “real-time”. But I remain defiant that we should resist at all costs the reduction of this business to a mathematical formula or equation. Human behavior, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs are formed and developed over an extended period of time – and are extremely difficult to change – make that almost impossible to transform overnight. However on the other hand, influencing predispositions one communication at a time IS possible. But the operative ingredients here are time (sustained presence), space (page real estate) and reinforcement (through repetition and message evolution).

Owning attention through dominant real estate and larger unit sizes will be critical in helping us to move this medium from the fringe to center stage; from one-off to always-on; from direct response to branding.

- 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.