NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's one thing to build a cool, new internet-surfing technology, potentially reshaping the way people browse online content. It's another thing to persuade advertisers to come along for the ride. And that sums up the question for Cooliris, with all its rich, graphical goodness: Will brands embrace it?
The browser plug-in turns surfing through images into a "Minority Report"-like experience, letting people sweep through a wall of photos or videos with a mouse, rather than endlessly clicking "next" to browse from photo page to photo page. Users are installing it at a rate of 50,000 a day, the company says, and the technology actually changes web-surfing behavior. Surfers with the Cooliris plug-in look at more photos and watch more video -- 12 times as much.
Leaf through video, photos
Like a lot of media startups in Silicon Valley, Cooliris is an ad play. The company developed a version that doesn't require a browser plug-in and can exist within an ad unit. Consumers can quickly leaf through thousands of images and videos within the unit, or opt to download the plug-in for a full-screen experience. Now the unit has a ad buyer that takes advantage of its potential: OMD for Nissan's Infiniti convertible.
OMD's director of digital strategy, Sara Morton, saw a video of a Cooliris demo given at Stanford, and brought in Nissan, which was looking for a way to build awareness for the Infiniti G37. OMD used Cooliris as the basis of its online display campaign, running its ads on CNET, Conde Nast's Style.com, Time Inc.'s Golf.com, New York Magazine's NYMag.com and Yahoo News.
The campaign required that publishers take the technology, as well as the creative, and OMD made it clear they wouldn't be buying any plain old banners. "OMD brought Cooliris to all the publishers and said, 'We are not banner-buyers, we are experience-builders. You want in, make it happen,'" Ms. Morton said. "And they did. Consumers will never say, 'I saw this great banner ad!'"
Publishers fed their own content into the Cooliris unit, dubbed the "embed wall," which also housed videos and display ads for Infiniti. For example: Yahoo News used the software to display images from the Michael Jackson memorial, intermixed with Infiniti images. Yahoo is in talks to adopt the technology and sell Cooliris campaigns with its own sales force.
As publishers adopt Cooliris for displaying media, the company can then potentially sell a network of its ad units across many publishers, what Cooliris is calling its "publisher network."
Mining the data
The campaign has just about run its course and Cooliris will be mining the data to learn, among other things, how many thumbnails were served and how many people interacted with the units. Nissan wasn't interested in conversions, or clicks; rather, it bought the campaign on guaranteed impressions and on interactions with the ad.
"For us, display advertising has a place in the world, but Cooliris gave us the opportunity to move beyond the banner and beyond display advertising," said Michael Awdish, global digital advertising manager for Infiniti. "Our buyers are much more savvy and more in tune with whats going on on the web."
The Palo Alto-based company, backed by Kleiner Perkins, DAG Ventures, T-Online and the Westly Group, seems destined to be acquired. The company raised a $15.5 million series B round in April for a total of $18.5 million raised. In addition to ad sales, the startup is focused on porting the software to other screens, such as the iPhone and TV.
For now, the ads are a virtuous cycle: Advertisers want to try something new in online display; publishers want the dollars and engaging content. Of those who interact with the ad, 5% end up installing Cooliris -- 14 million in the last 18 months. About 3.6 million actively use the browser plug-in, while 2.2 million have interacted with the "embed wall" on the web.
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CORRECTION:A prior version of this story cited incorrect ownership of Golf.com. The site is owned by Time Inc.