"Many advertisers rush to use rich-media tools, but theyâre not always doing it for the right reasons," said Nate Elliott, an associate analyst with New York-based research company Jupiter Research. "Before anyone decides on a rich-media campaign, they have to understand all the variables that come along with it. We see lots of mistakes going on out there."
While not every wrong move results in failure, there are several common rich-media mistakes that will tip the odds against success. Here are five mistakes that could derail even the most carefully executed campaign.
1. Using executable files
E-mail campaigns are ubiquitous, inexpensive and straightforward. Right? Wrong, especially when youâre transmitting audio, video or rich-media files to potential customers.
Hereâs the problem: Viruses transmitted via e-mail do their damage when someone opens an e-mail message and starts an executable (.exe) file. Corporate network and e-mail administrators try to minimize the risk of this happening by stripping out executable files at the e-mail server. Flash and most audio and video files use .exe files to launch their interactivity. Because an e-mail server doesnât know the difference between your snazzy ad and a potentially crippling virus, it will delete both.
"For the most part, only one-third of users will ever see rich-media ads," Elliott said. "Most people are just throwing their money away."
There is a better alternative, said Susan Macy Hayes, director of marketing strategies and services with Modem Media, an interactive agency based in Norwalk, Conn. She suggested sending potential customers a text-based e-mail with a link to a rich-media presentation.
"IT directors can and do set up whatever guidelines they want for e-mail, and itâs important to realize that," she said. "The business space for rich-media e-mail just isnât there yet."
2. Creating video in one format
Video can pack a powerful punch; it can demonstrate a productâs features or create an extension of a TV branding campaign. But using video isnât always a no-brainer. Although media players have been available on the Web since the mid-â90s, the fight for the title of King of All Media Players isnât over yet. Today, Microsoft, RealNetworks and Apple Computer are vying for the top slot, something some advertisers forgetâto the detriment of their campaigns, experts said.
"Companies donât always provide every format for their video-based advertising, which excludes people who donât have all three media players installed on their computers," said Reid Carr, president and strategy director with Red Door Interactive, a Web development and management company based in San Diego.
Carr said advertisers can minimize risk by making media clips available in all three file formats or by providing an alternative to watching video. "Just as you would with an in-person sales presentation, donât always [assume] that your projector is going to work. Have a backup available," he said.
3. Automatically launching audio
Picture your potential customer. Sheâs sitting in her cubicle researching your company as well as your competitors. She gets to your Web site and something happens: Music starts wafting out of her PC speakers. Not wanting to disturb her co-workers, she leaves the site immediately and crosses it off her list. Or, your target might have the sound on her PC turned off, thereby rendering any audio message useless. Unfortunately, this scenario plays itself out over and over again every day as marketersâhoping to create a certain ambianceâinclude audio with their rich-media presentations.
The good news is that sound isnât always unwelcome, said Brett Groom, regional president, West for iTraffic, a subsidiary of Agency.com. Audio can be useful when executed correctly.
"Youâve got to give the end-user a way to opt-in or opt-out before you launch the file," he said. "Done right, audio can be quite complementary to a rich-media campaign."
Paul Caden, VP-marketing and strategy with rich-media provider Eyeblaster, summed up this lesson: "Audio files should start in a default âoffâ position."
4. Overestimating bandwidth
One of the reasons it has taken several years for rich media to catch on is bandwidthâor lack of it. Most dial-up connections arenât robust enough to handle large file downloads. While the majority of U.S.-based businesses have a broadband connection, an increasing number of employees are either working from remote offices or from the road, where dial-up still rules. Forcing rich media on this group can lead to frustration, for both the advertiser and the user, said Kathy Kane, director of response strategy with Martin Williams, a Minneapolis-based interactive design and promotions agency.
"Youâve really got to balance graphics and bandwidth, the experience and your customerâs technical capabilities," she said.
But just because some of your target audience might be on a slow dial-up connection doesnât mean you canât create a broadband experience. There is technology available that will assess a visitorâs bandwidth on the fly, then send them content thatâs best suited to their connectivity speed. This technology, coupled with two versions of your campaignâhigh- and low-bandwidth optionsâgives you the best of both worlds and helps you avoid alienating clients.
5. Being too intrusive
For b-to-b advertisers, bigger ads donât always equal better brand recognition and click-through rates, said iTrafficâs Groom. Capturing an entire screen or being too intrusive can backfire.
"You have to be very careful with a business audience because business consumers want the facts," said Modem Mediaâs Macy Hayes. "They donât want the entertainment value. Itâs more of a hassle to view rich media. Unless youâre giving a customer value, theyâre very likely to click it off and never see your message."
Avoiding these mistakes doesnât necessarily guarantee that an advertiserâs message will be noted and acted upon. But one expert said that the opportunities provided by rich media are worth the extra effort.
"Any of these things can be successful," said Jupiter Researchâs Elliott. "Rich media can create buzz. Itâs all in the execution."