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Online advertisers learn to create captive audience

Online advertising is becoming more intrusive as marketers vie for the attention of surfers with a new generation of catchy Web ads that are hard to ignore.

Surfers have learned to ignore banner ads or click past pop-up ads. But they often have no choice but to watch a growing number of new ads, which stream across their screens or block out portions of the Web pages they're trying to view. These ads are designed so that they don't leave the screen until the message has been delivered.

Some obscure all or part of a page; others, when clicked on, transport surfers to sites they might not want to visit.

These new ads take three forms: floating or flash ads, also known as vokens (short for virtual tokens), which feature animation, such as a car moving across a computer screen; interstitials, which are full-page billboards that pop up without the user requesting them; and full-page commercials.

One voken that has appeared on the Web site of CHUM Television's MuchMusic music video channel, where a pair of track shoes races across the page to the sound of screeching tires and a souped-up auto engine. The ad, which promotes shoes by the Foot Locker chain, appears for less than 10 seconds and does not block out the page's content.

More intrusive is an interstitial found on the U.S.-based Playboy.com site, where viewers must watch a 25-second Jack Daniel's whiskey ad before entering the site. In the industry, this style of ad is referred to as a "roadblock," says Renée Hill, director of sales and marketing for EyeReturn, a Toronto technology and marketing-solutions company that trademarked voken technology in Canada.

These type of ads make up less than 10 per cent of all on-line advertising in Canada, estimates Juhani Eistrat, president of Toronto ad agency VBDI.

But that's bound to grow as technology allows marketers to become more creative and advertisers demand ads that are eye-catching and cool at a time when traditional Web banner ads are losing their effectiveness, he says.

"The response rates to banner ads are 20 to 30 per cent less than two or three years ago, because people tend to shut them out when they visit a site. It means mass marketers have to look at different methods of advertising."

Advertisers are willing to shell out as much as 35 per cent more for the vokens than they do for banners, says Ms. Hill, whose clients include Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, MuchMusic, Ontario Tourism and Foot Locker.

She says the new ads offer greater opportunity for creativity. "What our technology enables advertisers and Web sites to do can be compared to the evolution of early TV ads -- once flat, they are now pretty dynamic."

Some advertisers see the fact that their ads are now inescapable as a major plus, says Simon Jennings, director of sales for Yahoo Canada, a Web portal that has featured a number of voken-style campaigns.

"We are very interested in pushing the envelope but we are very aware of the piss-off factor," he says. "We don't want to do that to users but there are advertisers who, if they had their way, would take it further than most sites now allow."

Heather Gordon, sales manager for Toronto-based CHUM Ltd.'s ChumCity Interactive, concedes the new breed of ads has the potential to frustrate Web users but adds that all the ads on its MuchMusic video channel are tasteful.

"Our audience understands the relationship between ads and content but we do our best to keep their frustrations to a minimum," says Ms. Gordon, who used a voken recently to promote the relaunch of MuchMusic's Electric Circus weekly dance TV show. "About 10 per cent of our ads are vokens, and [because] vokens do move around the screen, that keeps the annoyance factor down."

Not everyone agrees.

Computer users whose surfing is interrupted by ads they don't relate to are often frustrated by their Internet experience, says Riccardo Zane, senior vice-president and general manager of the Leo i.d. division at Toronto ad agency Leo Burnett Co. Ltd., which won't design ads it feels intrude on computer users.

"If a surfer doesn't request an ad, or the ad that pops up on the screen is not targeted at that person's interests, we stay away from it," says Mr. Zane, who compares the intrusive ads with the "tear outs" used by many magazines to solicit subscribers.

By all indications, the new ads are catching consumers' attention.

On the MuchMusic site, internal tracking has shown that up to 15 per cent of visitors click on the floating ads, compared with just 0.3 per cent on banner ads, Ms. Gordon says.

"By using the technology, we have more to offer our advertisers, it helps us earn more advertising dollars and users see us as on the leading edge of technology. It also reinforces the cool factor at MuchMusic," she says.


Randy Ray, Globetechnology.com. April 5, 2002

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.. All rights reserved.