Creative agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine ran an online campaign for technology company EyeBlaster last year to show advertisers they were missing a trick or two when it came to rich media. The creative execution featured a video of paint drying and carried the strapline 'Don't waste it'. The point? Rich media is not an excuse to forget the importance of the creative idea.
"In this campaign, we spoke about the benefits of rich media and we used paint drying as a metaphor for a wasted opportunity. It shows that, with this technology, you can create anything, but it still needs to be good. Clients and agencies have misunderstood what is good about rich media; namely, it allows a creative agency to do so much. Rich media gives us a much bigger canvas to play with when you've got a technology partner like EyeBlaster or Tangozebra on board," says Tom Bazeley, managing partner of Lean Mean Fighting Machine.
The campaign strove to educate advertisers that, for a relatively small premium, they could create much better online ads and beat so-called 'banner blindness' by actually engaging consumers.
But, despite his agency's attempts to educate, Bazeley believes opportunities are still being squandered and many clients mistakenly still see rich media as "an excuse to make their logos whizz around and make a noise on the web page, generally intruding on what people are doing".
Bazeley goes as far as to say that 99.5 per cent of online ads are "creatively inept" and there's much more potential for innovation. "There's an enormous job to do in terms of raising standards. But, on the upside, the creative opportunities presented to us with almost every opportunity are infinite," he says. Of course, opportunities should only be taken if they fit pre-set commercial objectives and not because the agency has got carried away with an idea.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the very definition of rich media often causes confusion. James Booth, managing director at Tangozebra, defines it as "creative elements of online media that offer more than a normal, static display ad".
Rich media is often characterised by the fact that it incorporates movement such as video streaming within an ad or changing its creative when a cursor hovers over it. It is bought by 'format', provided by vendors like Tangozebra and Eyeblaster. Examples include an MPU (media placement unit), an expandable ad, a polite ad, a Skyscraper or a floating ad.
According to Booth, the first question that many agencies ask when embarking on a rich media campaign is what format are we going to use? This is his biggest frustration. He believes that campaigns would improve significantly if advertisers and agencies were less obsessed with the technology and format, and focused more on the creative idea and their campaign objectives.
"We attempt to encourage them to see beyond the confines of the format. My preference is that a creative team doesn't consider the technical restrictions and, instead, comes up with an idea they would love to execute, and we work towards this together," says Booth. "They might tell me they want to run an ad where a user waves a wand over a photo and it turns into a 3D experience, or they might ask me to create an ad that users can influence in terms of its appearance or with which peers can interact. All these examples are possible, but it's down to the creative guys to feel unshackled by the technology."
The reason why advertisers and agencies often feel "shackled" by technology, according to Booth, is because the market is full of format vendors aggressively selling their wares. He argues that the main issue concerning the online advertising market is not "banner blindness" on the part of the consumer, but the "technology blindness" suffered by advertisers and inflicted by "rich media vendors, who just want to ram their latest format down a creative agency's neck".
The problem for advertisers, says Bazeley, is that they're trying to sell their goods in an environment where many people don't want to be sold to. He suggests brands "talk" to consumers, as opposed to "shouting". He explains: "Imagine you're walking down the street and someone comes up to you and bellows at you. That's not the best way for them to endear themselves to you. Ten years ago, when advertisers first went online, they bellowed at users with 'click here' ads flashing everywhere. Then, with the development of rich media, the ads have just got bigger, more gratuitous and more 'shouty'. That's not the way forward."
So, what is the way forward? "Ironically, by not shouting at someone on a web page, you stand out in today's market," argues Bazeley. As a case in point he cites his agency's campaign for Virgin Casinos, which ran over the summer. In a market sector renowned for busy, unsophisticated ads screaming for attention with promises of prizes and free cash, Virgin commissioned an ad that was happy to sit in the background and be discovered.
The MPU contained an ambiguous, looping video of a man sitting on a chair, occasionally looking at his watch, and a discreet Virgin Casino logo, along with a button saying 'stand', which users could click. If a user clicked, the man would stand up and whack his head on the ceiling of the ad. "The thinking was that we would try to do an ad that looked interesting and try to get people interacting with the brand. When they're interacting, we believe that's the time to deliver the brand message," says Bazeley.
In the first six weeks of the campaign, Virgin Casino was achieving a 20 per cent interaction rate, showing that curiosity got the better of one in five people who visited the site. In this case, rich media technology gave advertisers the chance to bring a creative idea to life through video and audio.
Our panel agrees that advertisers need to focus on rich media's USP: the potential for interactivity. They also agree that measuring how many users interact with a brand, and for how long, is the most useful metric. Tangozebra's research shows there can be a 30-40 per cent positive upturn in brand awareness after people have interacted with rich media.
Measuring how many users click on a banner is unhelpful as this doesn't take account of those who mistakenly click on an ad or click it to shut it down.
Paul Fitzpatrick, digital marketing manager at General Motors UK, advises clients to use their own tracking tools, as well as those of their technology providers and agencies, for the most accurate feedback. "I'm still surprised by companies that don't put tracking on every ad they do. We measure all traffic arriving at our site and have done for years."
The key to a good, interactive, online ad is that it is controlled by the user. Video and audio should only be activated if users give permission. Fitzpatrick feels particularly strongly about audio: "I have a personal dislike of audio in online ads and I agree with media owners that audio should always be user-activated. You've got to remember that an awful lot of people might be viewing ads at work and audio can be embarrassing." He suggests providing a loudspeaker icon for sound, which can be switched on.
Another problem to have arisen from advertisers' propensity to be dazzled by technology is that media tends to be bought before a creative idea has been decided. This has a detrimental effect on the final product as the creative team is trying to fit an idea into a format rather than being unrestricted.
"We try, whenever we can, to ensure there's a fit between the media and the idea, but, in practice, this happens rarely because online advertising is still very much driven by media thinking and strategy. Briefing the creative agency tends to happen after the decision to invest a certain amount in a certain online media," says Bazeley. The situation is changing, albeit slowly, as clients realise that both planners and creative teams will be able to do a much better job if they work in tandem, rather than trying to fit round pegs into square holes.
Another tendency is for advertisers to take the above-the-line creative and simply place it online without adapting the idea for the internet. "Don't just stick a TV ad on a video," warns Fitzpatrick. "That's lazy online advertising. People have seen the TV ad, so they're more likely to switch off if that's all you do online." Worse still, they might view a brand more negatively after such an experience.
Fitzpatrick adds that if a user chooses to click on a banner, he is effectively saying 'I've shown an interest - impress me'. If an advertiser then merely re-runs its TV ad, the user might understandably feel cheated. "That person has given you permission to market to them. If you then market poorly to them, ultimately your scope to be thought of in a worse light increases," he says.
That's not to say Fitzpatrick believes a web campaign should use a completely new creative approach; quite the reverse. His argument is that the web ad should enrich and reinforce the main campaign, but not repeat it exactly. He gives the example of GM's recent campaign for Vauxhall Astra.
The TV ad introduced the idea of 'astrabatics', which Fitzpatrick and his team developed in rich media ads. "We used banners in which a car drives out and does spirals across the page, parking at the top," he says. GM will also launch an MPU for the Corsa from which animated characters emerge to grab attention. "With MPUs, you get a decent lump of real estate on the page to play with, in the editorial or surrounding it, rather than at the side of the screen," he says. "Having said that, you need to create ads that catch attention, but not obscure the editorial because that's when you put people off."
Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick and Bazeley agree that, when it comes to using rich media, you will never be able to please everyone and, if you try, you will risk creating bland, nondescript ads that won't be noticed. Another ad in Lean Mean Fighting Machine's campaign for Eyeblaster featured faeces. Guardian Unlimited and Haymarket Publishing refused to run it. In the end, the ad was pulled and replaced by a new one: a rotating turkey. However, pushing the boundaries in creative is perhaps more crucial online where users are developing a blind spot to banner ads.
Bazeley adds: "I believe it's much better to run a campaign that some people will love and really remember, which some may also dislike - much better that way than advertising that is so insipid that no-one blinks an eye."
Tom Bazeley, managing partner at Lean Mean Fighting Machine, trained as an account planner at Tribal DDB before setting up the agency with Sam Ball and Dave Bedwood in 2004. Its mission is to make web ads that people will see and enjoy. Virgin is a client.
James Booth is managing director of rich media firm Tangozebra, which he founded in 1996. He is responsible for strategic thinking and establishing key client relationships. Earlier, he headed up the French side of a foreign exchange operation.
Paul Fitzpatrick, digital marketing manager of General Motors UK, joined in 2002 to look after direct-mail and web ads for Vauxhall Motors. Towards the end of 2003, online formed a key part of the mix and Fitzpatrick took control of all Vauxhall sites.
DULUX WINS WITH FUN CREATIVE FOR 'SEX AND THE CITY' PUSH
This was the second push in a three-year campaign to raise awareness of Dulux paint. The objectives were to encourage people to visit and use new colour-mixing tools both in-store and online, and to position the brand as an authority on colour.
Agency.com's research found Dulux's core audience of 25 to 44-year-old, ABC1 women were seeking help with their colour choices.
The interactive agency worked with Dulux's offline agencies to develop the Sex and the City push, in which each character represented a different colour in pursuit of their ideal match.
Agency.com translated this idea with rich-media formats such as overlays, linked to Skyscrapers and roadblocks. To achieve cut-through, the agency used fake pop-ups containing the coloured characters. In line with the above-the-line idea, a girl leaves the first colour to be with another, standing on the sidelines in a banner, which she deems a better match. She uses various ways to get from her pop-up to his banner, such as swinging across on a rope.
"We wanted to do something original, engaging, surprising and entertaining that played to the strengths of rich media. We wanted to create a fun extension of the TV campaign. The girl could have just stepped out of the pop-up, but we thought it was more interesting to have her pushing on the side of the pop-up and rolling across the page," says Paul Banham, executive creative director at Agency.com.
As quality was paramount, Agency.com hired real actors to perform the ideas for the ad creative.
The ads were placed on targeted sites that tallied with the lifestyle and interests of the key female target audience, such as Vogue, 4Homes and MSN.
"Where possible, as in this campaign, we look to work hand-in-hand with the media agency and be briefed at the same time. That way, the results will be much stronger," says Banham.
Click-through rates for the campaign exceeded 16 per cent for the overlays while brand-tracker (TNS) results showed that 78 per cent of those users who recognised the Dulux ad felt positively towards it.
TOP TIPS ON USING RICH MEDIA
1. Be clear on your objectives and work with your agency to ensure your rich-media campaign delivers it. A beautiful ad is a terrible thing to waste on poor media buying (and vice-versa).
2. Don't crave the latest craze. Choose your ad format (floating ad, expandable, etc) and features (data capture, behavioural, live feeds) based solely on your aims and target audience.
3. Be creative, but keep your aim in mind. The best ads don't always win creative awards.
4. The beauty of rich media lies beyond looks: it empowers you to engage. Only one per cent of users will click through your ad, so don't leave all the good stuff on your microsite/site - pull it into the ad, so they can play with your brand.
5. Don't be a data bore. Use data capture with a reward in mind - a free gift, download, trial, brochure. Keep data fields short and simple.
6. Follow the standards. Include clear, close buttons and ensure sound is user-initiated.
7. Be intrusive, but clever. Floating ads can be very effective, sometimes irritating. Ensure your intrusive ad is attractive and targeted to get attention. Offer unique content or fun interactivity.
8. Show great video. Demand that your video is high quality and ensure multiple versions are created to suit users' bandwidths.
9. Use sound. Music, effects and speech will add an extra dimension.
10. Record every interaction. From 'rollover' and 'play video' to 'click through' and 'interaction duration', every interaction in your ad can be reported to give deeper understanding.
Source: Marco Scarola, marketing and production director, Eyeblaster
Questions to ask when planning on using rich media
- Have you set your objectives before thinking about the creative idea?
- Have you got carried away with this idea rather than focusing on your commercial objective?
- Have you thought about the creative idea before booking your media?
- Have you given your media planner as much background on the creative idea as possible?
- Is your ad going to annoy the target audience?
- Are you only using rich media to interrupt people's online activities with your logo?
- Have you fully used rich media's ability to allow interaction between your brand and users?
- Why have you chosen the format? Because it's a good fit for the creative or because a technology provider directed you to it?
- Have you tried to think past the technology?
- Have you imagined what you'd like your campaign to look like without limitations?