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Vivid 'experiences' as the new frontier

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With online ad spending going gangbusters this year-growth predictions range between 20% and 30%, depending on the source-marketers are looking for ways to differentiate their increasingly sophisticated interactive messages with rich media. 

 Web sites and advertisements that use rich media are important not because they are eye candy but because they are effective. As our NetMarketing feature in this issue ("Rich media demands attention," p. 24) points out, DoubleClick's Q3 2004 Ad Serving Trend Report found rich media ads have a click-through rate of 1.17%, compared with a 0.62% rate for static ads. These vivid executions have significantly higher conversion rates, too.

Speaking at BtoB's NetMarketing Breakfast in Chicago last week, Kurt Baldassari, director of e-commerce at CDW Corp., described how the computer products retailer has deployed image servers to provide zoomable, high-quality product images for all the tens of thousands of products in its inventory. "Customers have spoken loudly," Baldassari said.

What's next on the frontier? Video. A survey released this month by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) found that more than half of those surveyed watched video online at least once a month. The survey of more than 27,000 Internet users age 13 and older-conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates-also found 27% watched online video once a week and 5% watched it daily. Significantly, 70% of respondents said they had viewed a video ad online; 44% of those said they'd taken a specific action in response to the video ad.

While the current market for online video is just $200 million-dwarfed by the $60 billion spent on TV advertising-Jupiter Research projects it will increase by 64% this year.

"Every one of them is asking for [video] in advertising as well as Web site experiences," said Dorian Sweet, VP-creative, Agency.com, referring to three of the agency's West Coast clients, Miller Brewing, Visa and eBay.

By video, Sweet doesn't mean repurposed TV sopts posted in the corner of the corporate Web page, which some companies offer today. Rather, he's thinking about video embedded into and integrated with Flash and other technologies for use in product demonstrations, training and next-generation applications. Video is already showing up in the consumer realm, in online advertising and Web sites. It's a sure bet that b-to-b is next.

Fortunately, enabling technology platforms are racing to meet this demand for video. Consider last summer's release of Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004, which includes improved video compatibility, letting developers export video from popular editing systems into their Flash creations. Macromedia also claims to have enhanced the video playback quality by almost 200%.

There will be old-guard marketers that'll debate the need for vivid online experiences. "Our customers don't need that sizzle," they'll say. Meanwhile, progressive competitors will be watching and learning how Flash and other platforms are used by early adopters in the b-to-c realm. Some of them may have already begun working with their agencies on all this. I'm excited to see what they bring forth. With online ad spending going gangbusters this year-growth predictions range between 20% and 30%, depending on the source-marketers are looking for ways to differentiate their increasingly sophisticated interactive messages with rich media. 

 Web sites and advertisements that use rich media are important not because they are eye candy but because they are effective. As our NetMarketing feature in this issue ("Rich media demands attention," p. 24) points out, DoubleClick's Q3 2004 Ad Serving Trend Report found rich media ads have a click-through rate of 1.17%, compared with a 0.62% rate for static ads. These vivid executions have significantly higher conversion rates, too.

Elliis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business and can be reached at ebooker@crain.com

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