Online advertising revenues may seemed stalled in their growth, but the ads themselves are growing in size, and very notably.
Over the last year the use of larger ad formats increased by 40 percent, according to DoubleClick, the third-party ad server.
Skyscraper ad placements more than doubled from first quarter to fourth, while use of large rectangle ads quadrupled and the use of rich media spiked 43 percent, reports DoubleClick.
The use of larger formats certainly is the result of advertisers' frustrations with the much-dissed banner. It is also a logical advent of technological advances, the widening use of broadband in particular, allowing more complex ads to load onto screens.
But DoubleClick and others argue that the ads are gaining favor because they also work better, more closely mimicking ads in print and on television.
The era of rich media can finally begin in earnest.
"I think the changes that are going on here are really those of increased effectiveness," says Scott Spencer, DoubleClick's director of product management.
"The goal is to try to get people to see, view and remember an advertisement, so the larger message gives more room to get that emotional tie."
It's a matter of advertisers figuring out what is most effective, and as in traditional advertising it is a matter of creating levels of obtrusiveness that gain attention but don't alienate users.
"Advertisers are always trying to get the customer to remember something or do something," Spencer says. "If you're thirsty, get a Coke; if you want a sweater, go to the Gap.
"The more emotional the tie, the more reaction you'll get from a consumer, the more powerful the message becomes."
The shift to larger-format ads will likely accelerate. In December, the Interactive Advertising Bureau endorsed phasing out smaller ads in favor of larger, more standardized formats.
In April, The New York Times will introduce a magazine-style ad format, in which a half-page ad will appear to the right of a story.
The new format, part of a larger NYTimes.com overhaul, is designed to mimic the common full- or half-page ads found in newspapers and magazines. If reader response is positive, the site may adopt the new format across all of its news pages.
New York Times Digital, an active experimenter in new ad formats, reports that its sales were up 19 percent during the fourth quarter.
"As the technology becomes better, they're able to increase size and able to draw more of an emotional reaction," Spencer says.
But the creative has to be compelling, too.
Washingtonpost.com's most effective ad, in terms of response rate, was a spot for Tyson's Corner shopping mall in which the names for many of the mall stores scrolled across the screen and into a Tyson's shopping bag, moving over part of a skyscraper ad.
"It was a neat idea. It didn't seem particularly gratuitous," says Sean Carton, managing partner of Carton D'Onofrio. "It moved so that your eye noticed it."
In its study of fourth-quarter data, DoubleClick also found that view-through rates, which track users who click through an ad within 30 days of first seeing it, shot up by 47 percent during the quarter, to .53 percent.
It's not a huge conversion rate, but Spencer credits the increase mostly to rich media.
"I think two things come to mind when talking about the coming year," Spencer says. "Ad standardization on size, which helps advertisers and publishers work together.
"And the other trend I believe is going to help advertising is the usage of rich media. That additional emotional element helps advertisers interact with and communicate with consumers."
Posted on aef.com: February 10, 2003
Toni Fitzgerald, Media Life. February 6, 2003
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