The Rich Media Raft

How things have changed. When I first started evangelizing rich media (over seven years ago now!), it was really the poor cousin of online advertising. Back then, and well towards the end of the '90s, rich media represented only the tiniest fraction of the online advertising market, according to IAB stats at the time. There was little usage, little coverage, little interest, and very little understanding of this strange area of online marketing that consisted of talking banners and interactive ads.

But then things changed. Around 1998 I formed a nonprofit organization called the Rich Media SIG (Special Interest Group) dedicated to educating marketers about this arcane marketing technology, and what I thought would be 20 people hanging out once a month talking about the latest Java techniques soon blossomed into standing-room-only crowds with regular meetings being held in three different cities and two countries. Marketers may not have been using rich media very much, but they were certainly hungry for information.



Today, rich media is everywhere. DoubleClick recently reported that 20 percent of their delivered ads are rich media and that they generate six times the click-through of standard GIF banners. There are dozens of new rich media technology vendors in the advertising space, promoting everything from "Floating DHTML Ads" to full-page TV-like commercials.

Macromedia Flash-based advertising stats, as tracked by Netratings and posted on the Emerging Interest site, have skyrocketed over the last year, going from around a million impressions a week, on average, to well over a billion impressions.

But in many ways rich media is still as misunderstood as it always was. "How do you define rich media?" is still the No. 1 question I get, and lately people have been confusing "pop-up" ads with "rich media" ads. We also still have some way to go before running, developing, deploying, and tracking a rich media ad is as simple and streamlined as running a traditional banner, although progress is being made on this front through things like the IAB's Rich Media Guidelines Committee, Macromedia's Flash Tracking Kit, and the myriad of products being developed by Bluestreak, Doubleclick, Unicast, and others to improve workflow, provide best practice guidelines, and improve measurement and reporting.

In fact, the term "rich media" may have outlived its usefulness. The tools and techniques are such an integral part of e-mail, floating ads, in-page ads, wireless, ITV, and every other emerging marketing platform, that trying to isolate it is almost meaningless. It is almost as meaningless as talking about the effectiveness of video and audio in the context of a television commercial.

Now that the rich media raft has carried us across the stream, we may not need to hold on to it any more.

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