Media for the Online World

While recently researching some inventory on a site that I was considering using to carry a Unicast asset, I asked about the cost premium of running such a unit on the site. The site’s sales representative informed me that, in addition to the $5 CPM ad serving premium (which is itself ridiculously high), I was going to have to pay as much as 77% more than if I were to use run-of-the-mill GIFs or even Flash units.

“Why so much more?”I exclaimed. The site’s sales rep proceeded to explain to me that the reason is that the inventory allotted for a unit such as Unicast (I call them “free-floating formats”) was restricted. OK, I thought, I understand that. But then she said that there was also the matter of potentially covering up other creative assets on the given page. This got me thinking. Why should units like Unicast, Shoshkeles, or Eyeblaster (to name a very few) need to cover up other ads? And why should a premium be paid for doing so, given that other advertisers are already covering the costs of that particular page of content with the media buy you may be obscuring with your free-floating format unit? The publisher is essentially making their money twice.

In fact, why should there be any other ads there at all? I suddenly realized that we may be on the threshold of finally seeing a desire for more interesting and intrusive creative forcing online media currency and online advertising messaging formats to be more reflective of how media works in… well… other media. We might finally be at the end of the era of never-ending impression loads and half a dozen ad units per site.

I would like to see a future where quality publishers lay out their sites so that free-floating format ad units can stand alone in a particular environment, relegating banners, buttons, and tiles to an area of the site that is more akin to television advertising at 3 a.m. on a cable network.

Publishers could easily take down the detritus of advertising models past and not only streamline their look and feel, but potentially get greater revenues from having what ostensibly is “better” inventory. Let’s put the VC’s equation of “page views times ad placements times CPM equals riches of Avarice” in the grave and get sensible about just what should be showing up on quality content sites.

No reason for a zillion impressions of 120x60s anymore. That kind of stuff can be relegated to per-inquiry pricing models and placements commensurate with the cost and quality.

Some sites are doing this already, though the most common reason stated is that it will be less bothersome to the user. However true this may be, it also does create a shortage, if you will, that contributes to the value of the inventory. I don’t see why any losses from the elimination of some of the old standards can’t be more than made up by selling highly desirable, limited, creatively-driven advertising. should be a way for publishers to compartmentalize their inventory and make up any revenues lost from replacing standard banners with the larger, better units. After all, not all content is created equal, nor are all audiences.

And I haven’t even raised the specter of my old bête noire, the use of the impression over that of unique audience as the coin of the realm.

Limited frequency, more engaging creative, and cleaner environments just might be one way for publishers to offer quality and make revenue.

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