CNET: Familiar Format with a New Name

"Imitation is the finest form of flattery," said Scot McLernon, EVP of CBS MarketWatch, about CNET's introduction of its latest ad format - the "Interactive Archway" - on the front door of its CNET News.com website.

The Interactive Archway, which launched with Sun Microsystems as the first company to use it to announce its Network Computing 03 Q3 quarterly Web event, is an ad unit that begins with a five-second introduction and dissolves to an anchor position that wraps around News.com's top story.

"On first glance CNET's interactive archway appears to be much like our Intro-message, a full page "Intro-stitial" we introduced almost two years ago with Budweiser. The industry has accepted this as a best practice so I'm thrilled to see that CNET has taken this step," Mc Lernon said.

CBS MW's intromercial unit, most memorably used by Jaguar, is a full-page ad that plays for 10 seconds when a user first comes to the CBS MW site, before the front page loads.

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Sound similar?

The format is not new to the online advertising stage, with publishers like Forbes.com and Washingonpost.com and Fool.com having tested it in the last few months. At the end of June, CNET itself rolled out a similar format - the "intromercial," which it defined as a "five-second rich media ad unit that plays upon site entry. As with the Interactive Archway, Sun Microsystems was the first advertiser to take the format for a spin, using it to pitch the Sun Fire V60x server. Beyond Interactive, Sun's interactive agency, developed the units in conjunction with CNET Networks, using a combination of Macromedia Flash and the commercial break ad format from the Eyeblaster Rich Media Platform.

Most intromercial feature a "skip" and a "mute" button and have a frequency cap of 1, so the user only has to watch it on the first visit of the day. What's attractive to advertisers is that intromercials reportedly deliver 5 to 10 times better response rates than banner ads (partially because intromercials allow a plethora of rich media executions), which justifies the premium pricing, and publishers are very selective about which advertisers are offered the format so as not to cheapen the site's own brand.

Major portals have also jumped on the bandwagon of full page ads, the most recent example being last week's Ford F-150 homepage takeovers of Yahoo!, MSN and AOL.

Some experts argue that the intromercials are the less intrusive full-page ad format currently used on the Web. Proponents of the ads argue that when a user sees an intromercial, the ad doesn't interrupt any activities they may be engaged in, such as going from page one to page two of a news story. In its own defense, CBS MW has long maintained that 10 seconds of a visitor's time once a day with an option to skip or mute the ad is an acceptable price to pay for free access to a site like CBS MW.

The keys for success all hinge on user experience," McLernon says. "The user should only see these ads on the front pages once a day while the execution needs to both flawless and robust. Remember - people actually LIKE to see good ads, they're compelling and informative. How else can people know that Jaguar has a new model unless it's marketed? Since we built the format the executions by client and agency have only gotten better and as more sites adopt it I'm sure this trend will continue."

Other options include Unicast's full-page format and EyeWonder and FPBA Group's newest collaboration on the CommFlash EYERIS G3 full page audio and video solution. Periods of content, much like television viewing, are interspersed with short commercial breaks, enabling advertisers to display their ads without having to resort to pop-up or floating windows.

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