Commentary

It Better be Rich

The first time I was officially called an "evangelist" was in 1991 when I was interviewed for Millimeter Magazine, a publication for filmmakers. I was profiled as an example of one those nutty souls who changed careers in midstream to pursue some crazy technology called 3D computer graphics. This was at a time when all the smart people said the same thing: computer graphics will never become mainstream in films. It is too expensive. It is too difficult. It will never catch on: the old ways are the best ways. That was, of course, before Jurassic Park, Titanic, Terminator 2, and Toy Story. Well, computer graphics caught on, and I've been a professional evangelist ever since.

I've been ahead of the curve for most of my professional life. The reason? The parties are much better when you are ahead of the curve! But there comes a moment when the curve finally catches up and the wave washes all over you. That moment is happening right now for Rich Media.

That's not to say that there are no problems and that everything is smooth sailing on the rich media front. Far from it. You know that the wave has caught up to you not when the problems stop but when people start realizing that they need to fix the problems quickly and they start doing something about it. That's where we are right now. People have woken up and rich media is suddenly a hot topic everywhere you look.

This column is just one more example of that momentum. That is a sneaky way of saying that what you are now reading is a new weekly column I'll be writing for MediaPost about emerging advertising technologies. Not just "so called" rich media, but all advertising technologies: wireless, email, convergence, the whole ball of wax. Stuff that's ahead of the curve and stuff where the curve is already starting its uphill climb.

I was interviewed a few weeks ago by a writer who started the conversation off by saying: I know you are prejudiced, but what's the story with this rich media thing? Prejudiced? Obviously he'd never read my stuff or seen me talk. Only part of being a good evangelist is being so passionately obsessed with a topic, so sure of the way, that you are compelled to hammer people over the heads with your vision. The other half is to warn of the danger, point out the bad stuff, keep people on track without losing them down a rabbit hole. And so I'm also one of the biggest critics of rich media. Passion cuts both ways.

So what is the story with this rich media thing? Here's the good news: the future of rich media is now. Interactivity, movement, in-depth information, data-collection, transactions, sound, animation, video...the spark of human creativity - all of these things are made possible through tools of rich media technology. The genie is way, way out of the bottle and he's not going back in. People are now trying to drag their heels, bury their heads in the sand, and put on the breaks but there is no time for that now. And here's the bad news: those who wait are going to get steamrollered.

Warning: here comes one of those evangelical statements. The complacent should stop reading now:

The future of not only online advertising, but the future of advertising, in general, is dependant of the success of rich media advertising. Why? Well, let's be clear. Television is not going anywhere. It's here to stay and so are Radio, Print, and Billboards. But the Internet isn't going away either. All of the gloom surrounding the burst of the so-called dot-com bubble is disguising the fact that more and more people go online, and spend longer and longer periods online, every day. Right now people with a broadband connection view nearly one quarter of all online advertising, even though they represent only about 12% of the Internet population. This is because people with a broadband connection view twice as many pages as those who are on a dial-up.

And it's not just freaks and geeks surfing anymore. African-Americans, Hispanics, old people, young people, middle class, lower middle class, women... everyone is headed online and staying online longer. And they are looking for information - in-depth information about the products they buy, the places they go, the things they do.

And whatever you show them, as an advertiser, better be just as cleaver, compelling, interactive, and creative as they are.

It better be rich.

- Bill McCloskey is Founder and CEO of Emerging Interest, an organization dedicated to educating the Internet advertising and marketing industry about rich media and other emerging technologies. He may be reached at bill@emerginginterest.com.

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