New media, old techniques

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The techniques that engage online audiences aren't much different from what's worked for years in print. Audiences, regardless of the medium, find such methods as demonstration, the promise of a reward, problem-solution, a great conversation or the lure of a human face hard to resist.

Here are a handful of online ads that clicked with our panel—and we suspect the target audience as well—because they were based on tried-and-true techniques that are platform-agnostic. It goes without saying that they were well-executed and well-told.

In its banner, Freightliner invites its audience to hop inside one of its cargo vans, passenger vans and cab chassis. Its line of Sprinter vehicles is parked right on the banner, which will immediately select an audience whose job it is to specify or purchase those kinds of commercial vehicles.

“Get inside one now” is Freightliner's call to action. On the landing pages, visitors are given a strong sense of the vehicle's dimensions, look and capabilities. Some of the pages are as attractive as a brochure handed out in a new-car showroom. Well-organized tabs on the landing pages give the audience a keen sense of what they may be buying.

We found no videos on the pages—and video is the ultimate demonstration tool—but the strong use of graphics and print convincingly demonstrated the vehicles' bona fides.

Effective ads strike up a conversation with audiences. That's often done with brightly written, personal-sounding copy. Sometimes it's the friendly voice of the advertiser; other times, it is conversations overheard in testimonials or case histories. American Express, in its banner featuring the faces of small-business people, invites customers and prospects to “Join the conversation.”

As a way of stimulating the discussion, American Express uses smartly produced short video clips of small-business people describing the secrets of their success. In one clip, Lexy Funk, co-founder and CEO of clothier and accessories-maker Brooklyn Industries, describes how her company has continued to expand despite the recession. She notes, among other things, that store leases are much less expensive during the downturn.

Visitors to the pages are invited to reply with comments via Twitter, or members of American Express' OPEN Card member network can post on a members-only page. American Express aims for a high level of audience engagement, and we suspect they got it with this ad.

B-to-b advertisers are at their best when they offer to solve a decision-maker's problem. Best Buy's business division captures that spirit well with a banner labeled “Problem.” The businesswoman featured in the banner lays out the challenge she faces: “I meet with clients all over town and need to access data that's back at my office.”

The next banner, labeled “Solved,” serves up the solution in the form of a Toshiba satellite laptop. Best Buy effectively demonstrates to business customers that it can quickly provide a solution to their problems.

Promises are important in any medium. Audiences are always eager to learn of ways to be more productive, more profitable or how to make a dime look like a dollar. Office Max appeals to business people's sense of frugality by offering up to $100 off on a Brother printer. The banner keeps things simple by focusing its fire on the instant reward of the promised discount.

Nothing's more engaging in an ad than a human face. We are enormously curious about our fellow travelers. With that in mind, AT&T burnishes its banners with the faces of small-business people who are making good use of its products.

In the far right-hand corner of AT&T's banner, where the eye naturally flows, visitors are met with the rumpled, unpolished face of a man who runs a wine shop. He looks like the real deal, and we wanted to know more about him. Curiosity about him was satisfied with a case history that included a short video in which he describes the advantages of being an AT&T customer. The giant corporation has its share of detractors, so it makes sense to have messages delivered on its behalf by a small-business person with whom the audience can empathize.

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