Top 5 rich-media mistakes advertisers should avoid

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Making a mistake in an online ad campaign can have disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, errors are common, especially when that advertising has a rich-media component—a feature that 12% of b-to-b marketers use today, according to Nielsen//Net-Ratings.

"Many advertisers rush to use rich-media tools, but they’re not always doing it for the right reasons," said Nate Elliott, an associate analyst with New York-based research company Jupiter Research. "Before anyone decides on a rich-media campaign, they have to understand all the variables that come along with it. We see lots of mistakes going on out there."

While not every wrong move results in failure, there are several common rich-media mistakes that will tip the odds against success. Here are five mistakes that could derail even the most carefully executed campaign.

1. Using executable files

E-mail campaigns are ubiquitous, inexpensive and straightforward. Right? Wrong, especially when you’re transmitting audio, video or rich-media files to potential customers.

Here’s the problem: Viruses transmitted via e-mail do their damage when someone opens an e-mail message and starts an executable (.exe) file. Corporate network and e-mail administrators try to minimize the risk of this happening by stripping out executable files at the e-mail server. Flash and most audio and video files use .exe files to launch their interactivity. Because an e-mail server doesn’t know the difference between your snazzy ad and a potentially crippling virus, it will delete both.

"For the most part, only one-third of users will ever see rich-media ads," Elliott said. "Most people are just throwing their money away."

There is a better alternative, said Susan Macy Hayes, director of marketing strategies and services with Modem Media, an interactive agency based in Norwalk, Conn. She suggested sending potential customers a text-based e-mail with a link to a rich-media presentation.

"IT directors can and do set up whatever guidelines they want for e-mail, and it’s important to realize that," she said. "The business space for rich-media e-mail just isn’t there yet."

2. Creating video in one format

Video can pack a powerful punch; it can demonstrate a product’s features or create an extension of a TV branding campaign. But using video isn’t always a no-brainer. Although media players have been available on the Web since the mid-‘90s, the fight for the title of King of All Media Players isn’t over yet. Today, Microsoft, RealNetworks and Apple Computer are vying for the top slot, something some advertisers forget—to the detriment of their campaigns, experts said.

"Companies don’t always provide every format for their video-based advertising, which excludes people who don’t have all three media players installed on their computers," said Reid Carr, president and strategy director with Red Door Interactive, a Web development and management company based in San Diego.

Carr said advertisers can minimize risk by making media clips available in all three file formats or by providing an alternative to watching video. "Just as you would with an in-person sales presentation, don’t always [assume] that your projector is going to work. Have a backup available," he said.

3. Automatically launching audio

Picture your potential customer. She’s sitting in her cubicle researching your company as well as your competitors. She gets to your Web site and something happens: Music starts wafting out of her PC speakers. Not wanting to disturb her co-workers, she leaves the site immediately and crosses it off her list. Or, your target might have the sound on her PC turned off, thereby rendering any audio message useless. Unfortunately, this scenario plays itself out over and over again every day as marketers—hoping to create a certain ambiance—include audio with their rich-media presentations.

The good news is that sound isn’t always unwelcome, said Brett Groom, regional president, West for iTraffic, a subsidiary of Audio can be useful when executed correctly.

"You’ve got to give the end-user a way to opt-in or opt-out before you launch the file," he said. "Done right, audio can be quite complementary to a rich-media campaign."

Paul Caden, VP-marketing and strategy with rich-media provider Eyeblaster, summed up this lesson: "Audio files should start in a default ‘off’ position."

4. Overestimating bandwidth

One of the reasons it has taken several years for rich media to catch on is bandwidth—or lack of it. Most dial-up connections aren’t robust enough to handle large file downloads. While the majority of U.S.-based businesses have a broadband connection, an increasing number of employees are either working from remote offices or from the road, where dial-up still rules. Forcing rich media on this group can lead to frustration, for both the advertiser and the user, said Kathy Kane, director of response strategy with Martin Williams, a Minneapolis-based interactive design and promotions agency.

"You’ve really got to balance graphics and bandwidth, the experience and your customer’s technical capabilities," she said.

But just because some of your target audience might be on a slow dial-up connection doesn’t mean you can’t create a broadband experience. There is technology available that will assess a visitor’s bandwidth on the fly, then send them content that’s best suited to their connectivity speed. This technology, coupled with two versions of your campaign—high- and low-bandwidth options—gives you the best of both worlds and helps you avoid alienating clients.

5. Being too intrusive

For b-to-b advertisers, bigger ads don’t always equal better brand recognition and click-through rates, said iTraffic’s Groom. Capturing an entire screen or being too intrusive can backfire.

"You have to be very careful with a business audience because business consumers want the facts," said Modem Media’s Macy Hayes. "They don’t want the entertainment value. It’s more of a hassle to view rich media. Unless you’re giving a customer value, they’re very likely to click it off and never see your message."

Avoiding these mistakes doesn’t necessarily guarantee that an advertiser’s message will be noted and acted upon. But one expert said that the opportunities provided by rich media are worth the extra effort.

"Any of these things can be successful," said Jupiter Research’s Elliott. "Rich media can create buzz. It’s all in the execution."

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