Rich media demands attention

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B-to-b advertisers that once opted for static-and less expensive-online ads are increasingly using eye-catching rich media ads that boast higher click-through rates. 

 According to DoubleClick's Q3 2004 Ad Serving Trend Report, rich media ads have a click-through rate of 1.17%, compared with the 0.62% click rate for static ads. 

 "Banner ads are very easily overlooked," said Michael Hubbard, director of online planning and buying for Media Two, an interactive advertising agency. "Our average click-through rate is below 0.3% on a gif banner. When we release a Flash ad, the typical first two weeks we see 1% click-through rates."

Marketers are also noticing something that makes rich media especially suited to the b-to-b market, said David Hallerman, senior analyst with researcher eMarketer. "They know their audience-even more so than consumers-is going to have broadband, so there's less of a chance that a Flash ad will block the aisles," he said.

This will contribute to the overall growth of rich media ad spending, he said. This year, advertisers will spend more than $1 billion on rich media, a 35% increase over 2004, according to eMarketer estimates.

Clicks and more

Media Two recently launched an online campaign for the Chicago Board of Trade. The ad, designed to woo would-be commodity traders to the exchange's Web site, features free streaming quotes, sample research and a virtual trading account, all from a standard 250x250 banner. When a Web surfer "mouses" over the ad, it expands, creating a site within the ad. Media Two achieved this feat by designing the entire ad using Macromedia's Flash technology, Hubbard said.

But click-through rates aren't the only draw of rich-media ads. The real benefit, said Eric Anderson, director of agency services for interactive agency White Horse, is complexity. "B-to-b advertisers rely on a higher level of content complexity," Anderson said. "They have more to disseminate to customers with a typically much smaller budget. Rich media-and, in particular, Flash-has a content presentation that very much favors b-to-b."

That complexity comes with a higher price tag, however. Designing a Flash banner can add 10% to a campaign's budget, Anderson said. If the ad is interactive, such as the site elements White Horse designed for software developer Cotelligent Inc., that premium can go as high as 30% to 40%.

But the return often outweighs the investment, Anderson said, citing conversion rates that are 50% to 75% higher than static advertising. Plus, Flash ads keep site visitors on the page they originally visited, which makes the format more appealing to publishers.

Another benefit is that Flash advertising can do double duty in sales presentations, trade show advertising or press kit collateral, said Jeremy Helfand,'s senior VP-general manager of advertiser services. "There's no doubt we're seeing integration," he said. "Agencies and clients that we speak to are involving their offline counterparts more than ever before."

Part of the big picture

While Flash is becoming a bigger part of the b-to-b online advertising scene, it is by no means the only technology available. In fact, many advertisers are still choosing static ads over those with rich media, according to DoubleClick's "Ad Serving Trend Report." gif- and jpeg-based ads still garner the biggest chunk of the market, 57% versus just under 43% for all rich media ads.

"Online advertising is really about providing a mix," said Chris Saridakis, COO of PointRoll Inc., an ad platform provider that lets advertisers and agencies use Flash to build ads but also gives them the ability to include .pgs and video ad units. "It's sort of like baking marble bread or cake. It lets you do more than just the things you can do in Flash."

Tom Morgan, creative services director for online advertising technology provider Viewpoint, said advertisers should consider using a combination of technologies that make sense.

"It's rare that the customer comes to you and says, `We want you to use Flash.' If it's appropriate to use Flash, we will use and endorse it. What's changed is, 18 months ago, and even nine months ago, advertisers did make a single choice. Nowadays, everyone is trying to figure out how to use a combination of all the technologies to tell a story."

Advertisers will continue to see more opportunities to use Flash ads. For example, one company is using Flash to court smaller b-to-b companies that might not have the staff or capital to create rich media ads. New York-based adMarketplace created a template tool that lets anyone with existing text-based advertising create Flash banners.

Rich ads in online magazines

Another company is using Flash to extend traditional print advertisements. Zinio Systems makes online versions of offline magazines available to consumers and businesses. The publications, which look like print magazines, turn static-looking ads into interactive ones using Flash, said Dave Zinman, Zinio's senior VP-marketing and product management.

Publishers win because they can charge more for a Flash-based placement. Meanwhile, advertisers such as IBM Corp., National Instruments Corp. and 3Com Corp. have a way to make their ads pop on the page. Plus, advertisers can track who is looking at the ads by adding links.

"Online magazines look and feel like offline magazines and replicate the experience [of reading magazines]," Zinman said. "You can zoom in and out, see the pages curl, and read the magazines whether you're online or offline. But you've still got the added benefit of an ad with impact; you can include audio and video and really make your message pop."

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