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Sites to See: Entertaining with Advertising

Many companies are promoting technology platforms that power rich media ads, resulting in the birth of a number of trend-setting campaigns.

As with most new inventions on the Web, the rollout of rich media ads has not been without its snags. Many of the new technologies require a player or plug-in to be downloaded, which can frustrate consumers and consequently keep advertisers at bay. But progress continues: The sites and ad campaigns highlighted this month illustrate some new ways Web advertising is catching and holding viewers’ attention.

Technology Platforms

Unicast has managed to attract several high-profile advertisers with its "Superstitial" platform. The Superstitial platform is unique because it downloads in the background while the user is idle, pre-caches itself on the user’s computer and pops up when triggered. The advantage is that it is placed in the center of the viewer’s attention and is usually more entertaining than a banner ad. At this stage of the game, the Superstitial, as defined as Unicast, is practically synonymous with rich media advertising, as many of the campaigns highlighted on the following page illustrate.

Viewpoint has created a 3D rich media technology that allows products to jump out and twirl around at the click of a mouse. The company cites its Valentine’s Day cam aign for Godiva chocolates, which ran on MSN, as one of its more successful ventures. In order to view the enhanced ads, viewers need to download the Viewpoint player, but the company has struck a deal with AOL to have its player included in AOL 7.0, which should greatly expand its installed user base.

Zebus is a startup with a platform that determines the user’s bandwidth before delivering a streaming ad. Narrowband users are asked to download a utility, which the company claims will allow them to see smooth full motion video, but users that opt out of the download will automatically receive a typical rich media slide-show-type ad. Forbes.com is the first company to sign on to use the platform, though at the time of writing, streaming ads were yet to be found on Forbes.

Notable Campaigns

British Airways hired Agency.com, a digital advertising unit of Omnicom Group Inc., to create a Superstitial (à la Unicast) that gained considerable popularity over the course of a couple of months earlier this year. Advertising the new sleeper beds in British Airways’ business class, the ad played similar to a television commercial. The seats moved from the upright to the full sleeper position when clicked upon, creating a surprisingly enticing effect. The Agency.com Web site includes a showcase highlighting the British Airways campaign.

With the help of Team One Advertising (at the above URL), Lexus designed a Superstitial ad as part of its efforts to change the demographic of the average Lexus buyer from 52-year old males to ridiculously wealthy dot-com 30-somethings. The ad was popping up on Salon.com and Inside.com, among other sites, in the month of April, and featured the interactive ability to click the yuppies out of the way. Ah, relief!

Kmart’s online campaign to revive the blue light special and the creation of the www.blue light.com site was the work of TBWA Chiat Day (www.tbwa.com), an Omnicom company. The agency created eight different superstitials that seek to make use of the phrase that has become a staple of American consumerist culture: "Attention Kmart shoppers, there is a blue light special …" The Superstitials contain pictures of various national landmarks and images highlighted in blue, and can be viewed at www.unicast.com.This spring, IBM unleashed a series of banner ads that appropriately, given their target demographic, featured rather dorky astronauts. Clicking on the banners launched a Flash presentation, and a surprise page full of promotional QuickTime videos was just another click away at www.4.ibm. com/software/info/multimedia/visitors/visitors.html. The campaign, which also ran on television, touted the joys of using IBM software.

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