As marketers seek more compelling online ad formats, ad networks are trying to find ways to implement rich media across the hundreds of sites in their portfolios.
But it's no easy task given the complexity of developing rich-media ads, variety of formats, inconsistency in site acceptance and browser compatibility issues.
Still, some networks are plowing ahead with new ways to give advertisers enhanced media capabilities.
Today, San Francisco-based Flycast Communications Corp. introduces a new rich-media program that lets advertisers create ads with scrolling forms, Java animation, credit-card transaction capabilities, streaming audio and other enhanced features, and run them across hundreds of sites in the Flycast Network.
"We've taken the headache and time out of the [ad creation] schedule and enabled our network to deliver rich media," said Larry Braitman, VP-business development.
At the heart of the Flycast rich-media program is ResponsePoint, an ad format that uses templates to bring transactional capabilities to ads, such as letting users fill out forms without leaving the site.
AD CREATION SIMPLIFIED
The ads use technology developed by Thinking Media, New York, and First Virtual Holdings, San Diego, that simplifies the ad creation, detects what kind of browser a user has and serves appropriate ads.
"It's pretty easy the way Flycast has it set up," said Andrew Smith, national advertising manager at the Onion, an online satire publication that's one of the 500 sites in the Flycast network.
Currently, between 150 and 200 sites in the network can serve rich-media ads; Mr. Braitman said he expects all sites to be rich-media enabled within three to four weeks.
"All we have to do is get every page ready with an HTML tag, and [the ads] don't seem to slow anything down," said Mr. Smith.
Those two issues--the amount of time it takes to implement rich-media ads on sites and slow download times--are keeping many sites from accepting rich media.
The Flycast ads are relatively simple by rich-media standards (e.g. scrolling forms vs. streaming video), and advertisers say the enhanced interactivity is bringing them a greater return on investment for the online media buy.
For example, CD-ROM manufacturer Disc Makers is running rich-media ads on Flycast's network to generate leads for its product guides, and has already seen a jump in response.
LEAD GENERATION RISES
John Cooper, director of CD-ROM business development, said lead generation was 0.05% with the rich-media ad, which lets users request product guides in the ad, compared with 0.03% for a standard GIF banner.
While that response rate does not seem high, "In the long run, since impressions are so cheap, it brought the cost [per] lead from $10 to $6," said Mr. Cooper.
Other ad networks are launching initiatives to accept rich-media advertising, although they all note significant hurdles.
"Internally, one of the biggest challenges the entire industry faces with enhanced and rich media is trafficking these types of creative," said Jamie Byrne, who heads online marketing and sponsorship development at DoubleClick, which has more than 170 sites in its network.
"Every advertiser has a different creative type, they're all developed differently and they have a different Java script sniffer code [to detect browser types]," he added.
MAKING SURE ADS WORK PROPERLY
"Every time we get one of these creative types, there is a huge [quality assurance] time associated with them," said Mr. Byrne of the testing necessary to make sure the ads work properly.
While DoubleClick does not have a formal program to create rich-media ads and place them across its network, it does work with advertisers and sites on a case-by-case basis.
"We need to be able to accept any and all types of enhanced media," said Mr. Byrne, noting that DoubleClick has internal programs to make sure every site is tagged for what he calls "enhanced creative," such as HTML banners.
RICH MEDIA NOT FOR EVERYONE
Ad network 24/7 Media, which has more than 100 sites in its network, also works with sites on a case-by-case basis, although not all sites accept rich media, said Scott Cohen, senior VP.
"If an advertiser wants to test rich media, 24/7 can provide a way to do it," said Mr. Cohen.
"The trade-off you make, when you have rich media, is not every site can deal with it," he said, adding that with some sites, part of the site can support the ad, while other parts, such as the home page, will not because of slow download times.
The ad network has worked with rich-media formats including HTML banners, text links to rich media, pop-ups and interstitials.
LinkExchange, which has 250,000 sites in its network that is based on a barter model, says it is now testing rich-media formats, such as Macromedia Flash, Java and other enhanced technologies.
"One of the things we're investigating, and one of the best solutions we've seen, is for opt-in rich media," said Scott Laughlin, VP-advertising sales at LinkExchange, pointing to programs such as those offered by RealNetworks that serve a standard GIF banner and let users click to see rich media.
"Pop-up windows, daughter windows (small, inset browser windows), 30K Java and Shockwave files [that load automatically] are the Internet equivalent of spam," said Mr. Laughlin.
He said LinkExchange found that for certain streaming ads, sites in the network experienced a 60% abort rate.
"Streaming audio and video is something advertisers love and consumers hate. The issue is getting consumers what they want," Mr. Laughlin said.
Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.