Beyond the Banner: Will Rich Media Win the Day?

NEW YORK — Despite the many proclamations of its death, the banner ad keeps springing back to life. As online advertising tries to wake up from its two-year slumber, however, the banner might finally lose ground to formats offering more oomph.

According to Jupiter Research, banners still dominate online marketing, accounting for 95 percent of online ad inventory. Rich-media advertising, meanwhile, will account for just 6 percent this year. The Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers on Monday released similar findings, with banners accounting for the largest share — 33 percent — of the industry’s ad revenue.

Yet Jupiter predicts that rich media will grow to account for 22 percent of online ads in five years’ time, while conventional ad units account for 66 percent, as marketers warily embrace more intrusive online ad formats and ad technology costs come down. (Jupiter Research is a division of Jupitermedia Corp., the parent of this Web site.)

“When a consumer goes to a Web site, banners are exceptionally easy to ignore,” said Jupiter Research Analyst Gary Stein at the IAB/Jupiter Research Advertising Forum on Wednesday. “What we’re looking to do is pop off the shelf.”

The key to doing this, Stein said, is for advertisers to improve ads’ “packaging,” find an acceptable level of intrusiveness, and use the Internet to interact with customers. Only by looking at the ad as a whole — at the quality of creative, instead of simply at the format — will marketers improve the medium’s effectiveness.

“Beyond the banner and rich media are a set of opportunities, not a set of solutions,” Stein said. “The format doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”

Stein attributed publishers’ invigorated efforts in pushing rich media to the attractiveness of their higher prices, and to a return of online ad demand as available inventory shrinks as sites increasingly bundle rich media into larger ad deals as a way to bump up CPMs, Stein said.

But for this move to rich media to continue, he added that the industry needs to avoid a messy standards fight that could confuse buyers.

“We’re in a key moment now,” Stein said. “There’s a de facto standard coming out.”

The remark comes as the industry is indeed showing some of the early signs of a messy standards fight. Unicast, developer of the Superstitial interstitial format, has put its formats forward as a standard for third-party rich media ads, hoping to convince agencies and publishers of the cost-efficiencies from rallying around one platform. Rivals Eyeblaster and Bluestreak have similarly pushed their offerings as one-stop shops for rich media formats.

The upbeat prognosis for rich media’s effectiveness also differs somewhat with the assessment of Google Chairman and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, who yesterday urged online advertisers to “stop scaring users” with intrusive ads that hinder the user experience. He particularly cautioned against rich media as a slower-loading format undesirable for the faced-pace Internet user.

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