Adding audio to banners ups Deja News' response

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If this month's Victoria's Secret online fashion show was any indication, there are at least 1 million people who want to see more than just text and graphics on the Internet. They want audio and video.

This so-called rich media is finding its way into online advertising. Eager to boost banner click-through rates, advertisers are trying to bridge the gap between the flatness of the Web and the dynamic nature of radio and TV. The question is whether audio and video will be the Net's next great ad tool (think HTML banners) or a rest stop on the road to something bigger and better.

Based on results of one recent campaign by Deja News, I'm tempted to think the former is more likely than the latter.

Deja News was one of the first friendly front ends to the thousands of online discussion boards that make up Usenet. Long before online chat became popular, Deja News was linking people to discussions on music groups, pop culture and technology. But it's been under the gun to prove its business model, and recently installed a new CEO, Tom Phillips, formerly of Starwave Corp., and VP-marketing, Deborah Newman, formerly of N2K, which is about to merge with CDnow.

PEOPLE-DRIVING CAMPAIGN

Last fall, before either arrived, Deja News began an online ad campaign to drive people to channels in Deja News that cover music and TV--two of its most popular areas.

Working with Beyond Interactive, Ann Arbor, Mich., and free-lance designer Ella Yuan, Deja News placed animated banners on Infoseek and Ask Jeeves, as well as on ad networks including 24/7 Media, DoubleClick and 2Can. Ads feature images of pop music performers and TV shows and encourage viewers to visit Deja News to start a fan club or join a discussion.

But Deja News also tried something new: audio banners. Beyond worked with RealNetworks to mesh the banner ads with a 30-second voice-over that plays after the ad is clicked. The ads have been running on Real.com, LiveConcerts.com, Daily Briefing, Film.com and Musicnet--all sites managed by RealNetworks.

The results have been strong.

In November, the first month of the campaign, the ads resulted in a 7.8% click-through rate. Response fell in December, to 4.8%, but jumped back to 5.5% in January. The average click-through for animated ads without audio on other sites was a more typical 1% to 2%.

DRAMATIC INCREASE

"We did not expect the click-through to increase that dramatically," said Tempy Evans-Munoz, Deja News' marketing manager. "I expected it to increase from 2% to 4%, not 2% to 6%." Even more telling, the people coming to Deja News from RealNetworks' sites generated 10% more page views than those coming from other sites, Ms. Evans-Munoz said.

A second audio-enhanced campaign the company ran on Broadcast.com also did better than average, though not nearly as well.

Deja News chalks up the campaign's success to two factors:

RealNetworks' Web-savvy usership, which meshes well with Deja News' highly technical audience, and banner-ad creative that effectively sells Deja News' brand differentiation.

(Audio sounds like a classical radio station announcement, and the voice-over's soporific spiel hardly sells the site's excitement.) But I will add a third factor contributing to Deja News' success: the warm fuzzies. While these ads generate revenue ($100,000 for the four-month buy), they also demonstrate RealNetwork's technology.

However, another RealNetworks advertiser has had a decidedly different experience.

An Internet-based computer hard-drive backup service, @Backup, has placed RealAudio banners on sites including RealNetworks, Spinner.com and NetRadio. The campaign achieved an average click-through rate of just 1.75% on RealNetworks' sites vs. 1% on other sites.

@BACKUP'S EXPERIENCE

The percentage of people who clicked on an ad and downloaded @Backup's software was 5% on RealNetworks sites vs. 3% on other audio-enabled sites, said Brandon Wilson, director of Internet marketing at @Backup. While not unhappy with the results, he said the product's technical nature (vs. Deja News' entertainment focus) may have prompted the lower click rate.

Much work needs to be done before this kind of advertising can really take off. Fewer than 100 sites are audio-enabled, according to AdKnowledge, though that's up from practically zero a year ago.

Deja News is re-evaluating its marketing and will try to reach a broader, less technical Web audience, said Ms. Newman, the new VP-marketing, adding that Deja News plans to do its first offline marketing this year. She says she's committed to trying rich media, as long as it doesn't oversell.

"I don't want to give the impression that what you're going to get when you get to Deja News is snazzy rich media. But to the extent that rich media can communicate the brand and its experience in a more compelling way, I'm all for it."

So am I.

Debra Aho Williamson is a Seattle-based writer focusing on Internet business issues. Send Internet case study ideas to her at debrawilliamson@earthlink.ne, or Interactive Editor Kate Maddox at kmaddox@crain.com.

Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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