Revolution Magazine

Sample Issue

Is rich media stuck at the gate?
By Liz Garone

Rich media advertising was expected to take the internet - and the ad world - by storm. Finally, something, anything at all, to replace those static banner ads we have all come to ignore. Still, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn't agree that, when it is done correctly, rich media will offer a much more compelling internet experience. No surprise then that "more compelling" will also translate to more interaction and more time spent on sites. And that means more audience attention for advertisers.

Instead, rich media has come in the form of light drizzle on some sites, nowhere to be found on others. So what's the holdup? Why has rich media gotten off to such a sluggish start without a definite course marked out for the near future? Why are sites still reluctant to embrace rich media?

It would seem that the "b" word has reared its ugly head once again.

Bandwidth issues are the stated culprit across industries. Once capacity is no longer an issue - or no longer perceived as one - then everyone will be more likely to jump aboard the rich media bandwagon.

Executive VP, Sales & Marketing
24/7 Media

I'm not so sure that rich media advertising is stalled, let alone stuck.

The pipeline just needs to grow in order for it to happen. The key to its delivery is still the bandwidth and how much is out there. As the bandwidth increases, more and more people will have the ability to accept rich media in a much fuller format. Rich media will make the user experience much richer, and it will make the ad acceptance by the user much greater. People will interact with the ads more frequently because they have the ability to see things in video or audio or in animated formats that are not capable of being seen at the moment.

So, the question becomes how much you send, how deep a message, and what happens to the user on the other end. Some of the major portals are very restrictive in terms of how deep and what types of rich media they will accept.

The other side of the coin is that, as the bandwidth increases, and as the dynamics of what you can show to end users become much more media intense, it's going to become the norm, the way a 30-second television commercial is today. It could be that once you're inundated with rich media, a text message looks good to you because everything in rich media is now the norm.

As bandwidth increases, you'll see more and more sites offer ing the ability to serve rich media to their consumers. For advertisers, the wait might be a little frustrating.

Once bandwidth expands and more and more people have the ability to interact with it, you'll find that the acceptance of rich media will be much, much greater.

President and CEO

Is rich media the key to a better web experience? It can be. With each campaign's attempt to push the envelope, the future of the term "rich media" becomes more perilous.

But advertisers must become more educated on rich media's capabilities and when it is appropriate to use. There is a difference between using rich media to set your logo on fire and incorporating new technology to create a rich brand experience with seamless graphics and a highly personalized experience.

Advertisers have every right to be confused about rich media. Rich media has taken on buzzword status, encompassing everything from streaming audio to animation to intense interactivity to simply a big fat download. When asked to define rich media, most take a moment, scan the room, and lean in, saying, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

Perhaps the only way to truly define rich media is to compare it with "non-rich media." In online advertising, the clearest example of this is gif banners. The flat graphics and limited interactivity we've grown both used to and fed up with are a legacy of the way the web works. When modem connections were slow, say 28.8k, only flat graphics could make it through the pipe quick enough to load and keep the viewer's attention. Anything more bandwidth-intensive wasn't worth it.

Rich media is enhancing the web experience by enabling the online advertising industry's creativity, thanks to faster CPUs and speedy internet connections. Once pigeonholed into flat graphics, ads now have the opportunity to be delivered as multilevel, beautifully designed user experiences that can do more than give people a chance to click. They can be useful. Tell a story. Create a sale. Build a brand.

Many advertisers still don't know this and translate rich media into being "expensive," "time intensive" and "limited." Not true, to the extent that one knows how and when to incorporate rich media strategically into an ad campaign.

President and CEO
The FeedRoom

Until there is compelling broadband content out there, you won't see advertisers getting heavily into rich media. What's necessary is for programmers to jump in whole hog and take full advantage of what broadband has to offer. Right now, what you're seeing is a lot of narrowband sites that have a text-heavy emphasis. They'll stream a little video, they'll use a sniffer, and if you have the broadband connection, they'll stream the video for you at a much faster rate.

Broadband programming, at its best, is going to be a completely different experience from anything you've seen on narrowband. It's going to involve a completely different orientation. The viewer is going to feel that they are in a completely different medium, although it's also carried over their computer. Until programmers embrace these opportunities, advertisers are not going to embrace the platform.

What we are doing at the FeedRoom is trying to present a videocentric environment and experience for the user that's going to make it worth an advertiser's while to run full-motion video ads with interactivity.

Advertisers are cautious, because it's very expensive for them to produce commercials, and they don't waste their money on inefficient mechanisms.

They are the most rational and objective creatures, and they're not going to lead the charge. They're going to sit back and wait and see where the eyeballs are going, and then they'll get there as quickly as possible.

As you look around at what broadband programming there is, there's been no reason yet for a stampede into rich media advertising. At the same time, there's an enormous appetite for it among advertisers. They can't wait to explore and exploit the broadband platform. They're dying for us programmers to come up with a vehicle that merits their ad dollars and their attention.

There's no question that this is prime territory, and it's the next frontier for advertisers, but it's really incumbent upon the programmers at this point to take advantage of the opportunity.

We've led our Conestoga wagons into this extremely fertile valley, and we now have to start planting and growing, clearing out the trees, and building lasting value here. As soon as we can do that, the advertisers are going to come.

VP of Sales & Marketing Partnerships
Sony Online Entertainment

Rich media banner advertisements are certainly not stuck at the gate.

Approximately 50 percent of our advertising campaigns on the Sony Online Entertainment Network incorporate some form of rich media banner ads. And the demand for "pop-ups" and "interstitials" remains high.

That said, if what you mean by "rich media" is more meaningful, emotionally stimulating, attention-gathering, seamless and interactive marketing messages, then I am in fact in shock that the market has not moved on this. I always believed that the promise of interactive advertising would - and should - be going forward as quickly as content to meet the goal we all envisioned interactive entertainment and information should achieve.

That goal was and is for one to be able to interact with content and marketing messages in an easily navigable environment, when one wants, for the length of time one wants, and in the personalized manner one wants.

Content, especially entertainment, has made great strides in this direction.

Interactive advertising has not moved as quickly toward this vision for a number of reasons. Advertising on the web as a separate and discrete function does not fulfill the vision, especially since the interactive environment allows consumers to easily navigate around marketing messages.

When we run Unicast ads, we get flamed by our consumers. Unicast is intrusive, but it is not seamless or relevant to the content it is running within, and it is not sensitive to the interactive consumer's need to be able to interact with content or marketing messages when they want to.

We run the ads because we want to be part of the movement forward, and we applaud them for that sentiment.

Media Manager
Media Smith

First, the reason for rich media being "stuck at the gate" is that clients do not "get it." They understand that rich media looks better, attracts better and gets the higher response rates. But it is my experience that clients, oftentimes, cannot wrap their minds around what rich media can do for their products or services.

The next hurdle is the cost of production. Often, the difference between the cost of a GIF 89 and an Enliven unit is one to five.

Finally, there is the big issue of acceptance. There are many sites that, when sent a request for proposal and asked, "Does your site accept rich media?" answer "Yes, but we'd like to test it out first." What this tells me is that the site really doesn't know if it can accept rich media units. Though HTML has become the de rigueur rich media ad unit, there are many more formats that can be used that simply do not get implemented because sites, upon review, can't successfully run them.

As media planners/buyers, we would like to be able to run these ad units through a third party ad server. This further complicates the running of rich media. First, you need to see if the site can even clear the kind of creative you or your client may be considering. Then, you need to find out whether or not the site will accept it being run through a third party ad server.

Many sites will not allow it, because then they are not able to track the clicks. Since many third party ad servers now have features that allow for post-click activity tracking, it is imperative that I run a campaign through my third party ad server.

Now, if I want to track click and post-click activity, and the whole purpose of running rich media is to improve results that are being monitored, what's the point of my running that rich media if I cannot determine its real effect on my bottom line?