Forget Avatars, Rovion Lets Real People Pitch

Web Sites Feature People-Shaped Pop-Up Ads

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Given the context in which her hard-partying Hollywood peers have been portrayed in online advertising as of late, it was rather refreshing to see Hilary Duff fully clothed and talking directly to her teen fan base a few months back via a video ad on Hearst Magazine's Seventeen.com.

Hilary Duff pops up onscreen to pitch her perfume.


Not only did the October cover girl film an embedded in-person promo for her new fragrance, she also offered herself up as bait on Seventeen.com's home page to lure the magazine's young web surfers into other portions of the site.

Cut-out video ads
The promotion enlisted InPerson Technology from Maryland-based web company Rovion, whose distinctive cut-out video ads literally put a face on contextual advertising.

"As the publishing industry struggles to adapt to the new digital landscape, what better way to brand publications than with spokespeople?" said Len Ostroff, CEO, Rovion. "Whether it's Rolling Stone and the newest rock band or more trade-type magazines, there are ways to create brand awareness with the visitor as well as a personal connection."

Having a celebrity on hand, of course, doesn't hurt.

"If you're a teenager and Hilary Duff is speaking right to you, there's something really cool about that as opposed to Mr. Peanut running across the screen," said Matt Kaplan, Hearst's director-online ad sales.

Strong click-through rates
The Hilary Duff promotion was a noteworthy success for Seventeen.com, with more than 50% of viewers watching the 15-second spots in their entirety and a 30% click-through rate in response to Ms. Duff's video plugs for her With Love fragrance.

Forbes.com posted similar numbers for a recent clip Steve Forbes filmed to drive visitors to the site's Street Talk section, with a 12% click-through rate and 67% of all viewers staying for the complete video.

Since the ads play instantly once the web page loads, the potential for invasiveness was an issue addressed by publishers early on. What sold Michael Smith, Forbes.com's general manager, on the concept was the control panel Rovion equips its promos with to let consumers call the shots. "We're sensitive to reader usability and any concerns in that regard, but they provided us with ample controls that were a very elegant implementation," he said.

An awkward contextual mishap experienced by a New York ABC-TV affiliate last week.
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Awkward contextual mishaps
But neither Rovion nor the ad's host site can prevent an awkward contextual mishap such as the one experienced by a New York ABC-TV affiliate last week. Users who accessed the station's story on a Queens teacher struck by a car had the potential to be greeted by a spokesman for Toyota.com, who conveniently points to his logo-bearing T-shirt for added emphasis. Mr. Ostroff takes such accidents in stride.

"The beauty of InPerson is that it can be launched easily on any website with only one line of code," he said. "We supply our clients with a platform to implement InPerson campaigns that are highly relevant to their intended online content. Where our clients ultimately place InPerson videos on their site, however, is purely up to them."

Both Forbes and Hearst reported high overall satisfaction with their Rovion experiences, and would consider experimenting again in the future. Mr. Kaplan pointed out the ads' effectiveness in helping Seventeen.com remain on the cutting edge to its readers, as Rovion is still relatively new and non-ubiquitous. "If we're not showing new things to [our readers], we run the risk of becoming boring," he said.
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