In-text ads -- the underlined links embedded in online articles that pop out at readers when scrolled over -- have gone from simple text ads to rich media units capable of displaying Flash animation, video and even search boxes in recent years.
If the format wasn't already attention-grabbing enough, in-text ad provider Kontera is introducing a new wrinkle in which the ads appear in the actual form of the products they're advertising when triggered.
Instead of a typical 300 x 250 rectangle, an ad for Quaker Instant Oatmeal will appear in the exact shape of a bowl of its Strawberries & Cream variety with the box alongside it when someone mouses over the keyword "strawberry" in an article.
Likewise, a Samsung in-text ad displays in the form of a Samsung smartphone showing a 15-second version of its Winter Olympics-themed TV spot when a cursor hovers over the term "2010 Winter Olympics" in a story.
Kontera has been testing the new "Freedom" units with those and several other advertisers over the last five months and is now formally rolling out the new custom line. Based on test campaigns so far, Kontera says the custom units have generated clickthroughs of 11% to 15%, far higher than the anemic rates of standard banners and roughly on par with the average click rate the company says its in-text ads get generally.
In relation to the Quaker ad, Pranav Pandit, group director of strategy, digital, at OMD, said the client had tasked the agency to come up with advertising that dispelled "the perception of oatmeal being boring." He added in a statement that Kontera's Freedom unit "delivered on the campaign objectives while also returning the highest click-through rates across the campaign."
In addition to Quaker and Samsung, other advertisers that have tested the new unit include FedEx, Adobe, the Republic of Ireland and Curel.
In-text ads have long been controversial because of their intrusiveness and blurring of the line between independent editorial content and advertising. Forbes.com famously pulled in-text ads from stories in 2005 after reporters complained about them. But the units have gradually gained wider acceptance as advertisers look for new ways to engage online users and recession-battered publishers seek new revenue streams.
The green in-text links -- often supplied by Kontera or Vibrant, the two biggest players in the space -- now show up everywhere from AOL to iVillage to FoxNews.com as well as thousands of mid-tail and long-tail sites.
On the advertising side, Kontera boasts clients including JCPenney, Zappos, HP, Dove and Snapple. Without providing actual dollar figures, Kontera President Hal Muchnick said in an interview late last year that the company was on track to increase revenue 50% in 2009.