Click/Counter-Click: Are You Walking The Rich Media Walk?

CLICK by Jason Heller

We all read study after study that proves that consumer engagement drives increase awareness, recall, purchase intent and elements of response and conversion. So why are so few online ads offering consumers brand experiences, versus simple "display ads"?

DoubleClick's recent "Evolution of Rich Media Advertising" report states that by next year over half of all ads will be rich or streaming, while Jupiter predicts that figure will be 35 percent. Those are significant numbers, you say? Don't forget that these industry statistics include a good volume of basic flash ads, which, let's face it, are usually not that rich. However, pegging an exact percentage is tough, due to the data being dispersed among multiple providers and research companies. Industry statistics provide directional guidance as to where we are as an industry, as opposed to an absolute position. As reported by Nielsen//NetRatings AdRelevance service during the third quarter of 2005, only a mere 2.4% of non-search-based ads were rich media, while basic flash ads accounted for 29.5% of all ads served. Keeping in mind that Dart Motif and Atlas rich media ads are most likely being reported as basic flash (generic), therefore the 2.4% rich media number is most likely exponentially higher. However, I would say that as an industry we are just starting to walk the rich media walk.



So why are most ads not rich? We can segment most of the direct response marketers who buy high volumes of very low-cost inventory (often at very high frequencies) and can't always offset the incremental costs. Most of the major ad categories--consumer packaged goods, auto, travel, and entertainment, for example--do, of course, utilize rich media. But there is apparently a huge disparity between the industry's call to engage consumers, and the types of units that make up the majority of ads served. Of course, increases in rich media usage bring potential consumer desensitization and eventual decreases in ad effectiveness... but that's a story for another column.

I actually hate the phrase "rich media." The name has outlived its purpose and doesn't truly explain the concept of what we are trying to accomplish, which is breaking through the marketing clutter to better engage with, and influence, consumers. Of the "rich media" ads I see online, most are not executed in a manner that excite me as a consumer. Yes, they are rich with multimedia components, but many ads do little to truly engage with the consumer. Those that do, stand leaps and bounds above the crowd.

Let's take a look at a couple of common myths behind the reluctance to use more engaging forms of rich media.

Myth #1--Cost: "It's too expensive." There are three components to the incremental costs of using rich media: serving costs, media premiums and creative costs. Serving costs are continuing to drop as competition has increased between vendors as well as the major ad-serving companies, who have incorporated rich media tools into the ad server itself. In most instances increases in performance will outweigh increases in cost, often significantly. Media premiums are relatively small, and sometimes non-existent. Granted, your agency will charge more to develop rich media versus standard ads, but it is usually well worth the expense.

Myth #2--Technical Complexity: "It's too complicated and we don't have time." Developing rich media has also become easier. Rich media and ad-serving companies provide various authoring tools and templates to streamline the process of development and testing. This has made life a little easier for flash developers, as they adapt their skills to developing engaging rich media ad units.

Acceptance of rich media is widespread and transcends sites large and small. Most sites have rich media policies regarding user initiation, the use of audio and/or other elements that impact user experience. Additional rich media guidelines are on the way, which should continue to streamline the process.

Media planners do need to take the extra time to examine the environments in which their rich media ads will be displayed, in order to ensure that the placements will not be clashing with other units or site content. Media planners have had to morph into marketing consultants in order to provide guidance on the most effective formats and units. Remember, in some environments a simple text link or other unit may be most effective.

So what's the magic number--the percentage of rich media beyond which an investment reaches the point of diminishing returns? I will try to look deeper into my crystal ball before writing the next rich media piece...

Fortunately, there is a way to seek the answer. By providing consumers with engaging advertising, putting a measurement plan in place and testing various types of units and formats, you can establish a model.

Haven't we been working hard enough as an industry to demonstrate the increased value of engagement with consumers in digital environments? So make those ads come alive--take advantage of the medium that we all love so much. Don't just talk the talk--walk the rich media walk!

Counter-CLICK by Paul DeBraccio

I agree with Jason that more advertisers should be taking advantage of the great performance opportunities that rich media offers. However, it appears that many advertisers are walking the walk already, with their checkbooks in hand. A recent Jupiter estimate claims that rich media ad spending will be $1 billion in 2005 and rise to $4.5 billion by 2010.

We receive about 50-60 RFPs per month, mostly from blue-chip advertisers, and more than 90 percent of them require rich media capabilities.

It seems that more people are walking the walk than it appears to my colleague.

However, I do concur that more advertisers should put creative effort into developing high value creative for the Internet, as they do for TV. Of course they don't, always, since online budgets are considerably smaller than TV budgets, and agency resources tend to be allocated by return on investment.

The industry should get together and contribute to a rich media marketing budget that advocates better use of the rich media tools. It could consist of kiosks located near major agencies showing a dull ad made brighter through the use of rich media. Too, maybe we could hold a rich media jamboree every six months, providing big awards and recognition. (After all, we do need another conference, don't we?)

Other than that, I have seen a definite upswing in Rich Media campaigns, at least among the top- spending categories, like pharmaceuticals, food, entertainment, auto and even conservative financial advertisers.

Some changes that could streamline the process:

1) Standard T&Cs developed by committee.
2) Maybe more precise universal product classifications among rich media companies.
3) Ongoing training targeting media buyers and sellers, instead of only creatives.
4) Studies that drive home increased conversions via rich media.

We are walking and even running with the rich media ball, but maybe we can make it easier to run. This will have the side effect of accelerating the maturing process of the online (and mobile) ad industry.

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