"Being able to bring the power of contextual advertising together with the power of brand advertising, that's what really excites us," said Doug Stevenson, CEO, Vibrant Media. The Intellitxt Video unit, an improvement over Vibrant Media's text-only predecessor, could also help online publishers collect additional ad revenue without flooding screens with garish pop-ups.
Combats 'banner blindness'
Intellitxt Video might even work better, said Jason Tsai, group interactive media director, Universal McCann, who is trying the ad unit to promote a couple of Microsoft products. "With banners, you can serve the ad, and the user may or may not be focused on that part of the page," he said. "This is one of those things that potentially help us combat 'banner blindness' because the eyes are where the mouse is, and that's what launches this ad."
The ads are perhaps the closest yet to purely user-initiated marketing, apparent only by the underlines unless users activate them. Moving the mouse away makes the ad disappear.
Advertisers only pay when users click on the ads, which 2%-3% of the people who mouse over the ads actually do. Prices per click vary widely but generally range from $5 to $20, Mr. Stevenson said.
Vibrant Media and its 1,100 participating publishers, which include Fox News and American Media magazines such as Star and Men's Fitness, are not immune from controversies about editorial independence from advertising. Forbes.com tried Intellitxt keywords in news articles in a 2004 experiment, but halted the practice after two months of unease and complaints from its own reporters.
Bit of an eyesore
And passive or not, the double-underlined keywords are a bit of an eyesore. A Web surfer who had started noticing the double-underlined text even wrote a technology writer at The Guardian last fall to ask, "How can I get rid of them?" (The short answer: not easily.)
Movie studios, video-game marketers and car companies have shown some of the most interest in Intellitxt Video so far, with Warner Bros. using a pre-release version to show trailers for "Poseidon" when consumers moused over terms such as "new releases" and "Richard Dreyfuss." Other advertisers already trying it out include Intel and TLC.
"The thing about the video that's particularly interesting to me is that they're contextual," said Paul Caparotta, advertising manager, Ubisoft. "We definitely like to show what our games are about. Being able to contextually target video advertising is really, really exciting."
Of course, online ad revenue hardly needs a growth injection. It set a new quarterly record in the first three months of this year, totaling $3.9 billion in a 38% growth spurt year-over-year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.