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NYTD Points to "Surround Session" Benefits

"Surround sessions," an ad delivery format that's recently come into vogue, is not only innovative, but it delivers major boosts in branding -- according to findings from the New York Times' online unit.

In the "surround session" model, site visitors receive ads from a single advertiser for the entire duration of their stay. That includes banners, Interactive Advertising Bureau "large rectangle" sizes, skyscrapers and buttons.

A handful of players, including Houston-based VIPcast and the Online Publishers Association, have touted the benefits of the new format, but until now, there's been little more than anecdotal evidence suggesting that it's better at conveying brand messaging.

Research conducted by Dynamic Logic on behalf of New York Times Digital found that advertisers testing the format -- which include American Airlines and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals -- saw sizable increases in brand awareness, favorability, and purchase intent.

On average across the advertisers' campaigns, the surround session format generated an 11 percent lift in brand awareness, nearly three times greater than consumers that weren't exposed to the campaign. Surround sessions generated a staggering 61 percent message association -- more than four times the average consumer. The format also tripled brand favorability, to 3 percent, while quadrupling purchase intent, to 4 percent.

"What we're really focusing on from the surround session experience is duration -- time spent," said NYTD vice president of marketing Craig Calder. "The fact that someone is spending an average of 11 minutes with advertisers' messages, as compared to traditional media when it's more like 30 seconds per clip, there's an ability to connect with user that's really proven out.

"Also the frequency, being able to see consecutive exposures, drives home the same focused message in different executions," he added.

Results from AstraZeneca's Nexium campaign also proved particularly telling, NYTD spokespeople said. That effort used about 30 different executions with a range of different objectives -- such as straightforward branding or specific calls to action, like links to white papers and coupon downloads. The resulting campaign boosted brand awareness from 1 percent to 20 percent.

Calder called the effort the "gold standard" of what can be accomplished by fully leveraging surround sessions.

"They had so many different creative executions and they really took advantage of the medium," Calder said. "Trying a combination of goals, in terms of combining branding with direct response and benefit-driven creative, really gives advertisers the most bang for their buck."

The move comes amid industry moves to shore up its practices, create standards, and promote the medium to advertisers as an effective alternative or add-on to traditional media buys. One of the leaders in that effort, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, has sponsored studies on Web ad effectiveness; endorsed a host of new, more eye-catching formats; and encouraged the use of rich media creative and standardized measurement.

"Online advertising in the past has been difficult to make an impact with a small-sized banner and short exposure, but the power of surround session is that you actually have power to tell a story, to explain different concepts, and really do branding in a powerful way on the Web," Calder said. "That's what this is all about, making online advertising more effective."