Good question; even people working in the field occasionally have trouble defining it. "It's sort of a Franken-ad," said Dorian Sweet, executive creative director at Tribal DDB, San Francisco, who has been blogging about rich media for several years. "It's sort of a website, kind of a banner, looks like video, uses audio. ... Some people see it as the mortar between the creative bricks of the ad world." Quipped DoubleClick VP-Advertiser Products Ari Paparo: "Rich media is like pornography: You know it when you see it."
OK, SO HAVE I SEEN IT?
Without a doubt. But perhaps Mr. Paparo should have said you'll know it when you use it, since the one unifying principle behind rich media's versatility is interactivity. It powers everything from expandable, rollover and floating ads to tear-backs, audio tracks, video and games.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Rich media's strength is the same thing that defines it: interactivity. Interactive advertising has a proven track record of driving brand awareness and generally results in higher click-through rates than other forms of online advertising. (The click-through rate for typical display ads hovers between 0.1% and 0.2%, but the click-through rate for rich media usually hits 2% at its weakest.)
ARE CLICK-THROUGH RATES THE WAY RICH MEDIA IS MEASURED?
Not necessarily. Actually, part of the goal of rich media is to get rid of clicks altogether. It offers consumers the brand experience, product information and even local or online buying options without ever taking them away from the content they were originally viewing. John Vincent, CEO of rich-media vendor EyeWonder, said the tactic works best when you "decrease the threshold of information access for the consumer."
HOW DO YOU MEASURE IT?
A few years ago, marketers were debating whether the return on rich media was worth the higher cost of producing it. But there were few metrics by which to judge. Today there are tons of metrics but no standards, so one company might call it interaction when a user briefly mouses over an expandable ad, while another won't until the ad is fully expanded. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is working to standardize rich-media metrics.
Choose your goals and metrics carefully. Whether you're trying to drive traffic to a site, create leads or drive brand awareness will determine whether you should focus on click-through rates, lead sign-ups or time spent interacting with the brand.
"The measurements end up creating a lot of questions," Tribal DDB's Mr. Sweet said. "The hardest thing to argue on is: What's the value of rolling over? If I spend five minutes with an ad, what does that mean? Were they good minutes, bad minutes?"
WHAT'S THE FIRST STEP IN CREATING A RICH-MEDIA AD? DOES MY AGENCY DO IT, OR IS IT OUTSOURCED?
Typically a marketer's creative agency comes up with the concept of the ad. Then it will work with a rich-media company -- Eyewonder, DoubleClick, PointRoll, Unicast -- to develop the ad itself. These rich-media companies are the production and ad-serving experts.
SOUNDS GOOD, BUT WHAT'S
The intrusiveness of some rich-media ads can result in severe backlashes from consumers. Users like to have control over their content, so keeping the user experience in mind when designing rich-media campaigns is key. This doesn't mean every ad needs to be user-initiated, but if it isn't, it better have a good payoff even for a disinterested consumer.
Additionally, the complexity of rich-media ads can make scaling their distribution cumbersome and costly. "Ads have gotten more complex and require multiple placements on thousands of publisher sites, each with their own platform and user systems," said PointRoll CEO Jason Tafler.