Microsoft will be the first to use it, in association with the Windows XP launch, which debuts today.
The launch units appear as large size ads across the top of a page as soon as users open the page. The ads appear for three seconds then roll up into a small ad at the top of the page where users are invited to click for more detailed product information.
Barry Briggs, CNET's president of media, calls the new format novel, but Jim Nail, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, disagrees. "It's not as revolutionary as they make it out to be," he says. "Rollover units aren't new, Enliven and PointRoll have done them."
While the roll over format might not be new, the opportunity to reserve exclusive space on CNET front pages is. Briggs says CNET is offering exclusive space on its front pages for one to seven days in association with the launch units. Ordinarily, it rotates advertising on the front pages.
The launch units can be used at Cnet.com, Zdnet.com, News.com, Download.com and Techrepublic.com.
CNET is renowned for its Messaging Plus units (MPUs), introduced early this year and later standardized by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The format has been a success, with 30 customers and 100 campaigns in Q2 and 80 customers and 162 campaigns in Q3 having used them. MPUs don't appear at the top of front pages, because they're navigation pages users spend more time at. "If they were put at the front door, they'd block important content and hurt the user experience," Briggs says. Since the launch units roll over, they don't block content, which is why CNET can put them on the top of the front page.
CNET hopes the launch units will appeal to tech marketers looking for a quick way to brand new products. "We know tech product lifestyles move quickly and the success of a product launch is critical to a tech company so we started to ask what we could do that takes advantage of the unique impact of the Internet and the unique properties of CNET," Briggs says. The most unique property of CNET is that its network reaches 10 million users, according to Briggs, a vast prequalified audience of interest to high tech advertisers.
Nail says the fact that launch units are specifically geared to product launches is extremely valuable. "Marketers want to spend more on line but don't know how to use it, so here's a package geared to a product launch. It's a turnkey solution and few other sites do it," he says.
As the first launch unit advertiser, Microsoft may have played a role in developing the format. A spokesman for Microsoft's interactive agency, Exile on Seventh, who requested anonymity, says it is partly responsible for the launch units coming to market now. "It was in beta when we saw it and didn't exist as a unit. We got with them to develop the creative," he said.
Of course, it will be available to other advertisers and is on the market starting today.
To see a sample launch unit, click here.