Rich Media Firms Point to Growth

While the overall online ad market continues to look grim as clients reduce their marketing budgets, a number of rich media ad firms say that they’re bucking the trend, and seeing increased interest from advertisers.

As one of the chief users of Macromedia’s Flash technology, New York-based Unicast said it’s seeing tremendous success. The company’s client roster has grown from about 133 to 300 companies since last year, with growth rates at about 16 percent from first to second quarter of this year.

E-mail marketing firm Whitespeed, additionally, debuted rich media campaigns for American Express, Charles Schwab and General Motors. 20th Century Fox and Universal both regularly launch large rich media efforts, as do automakers, like Ford, Nissan and General Motors.

The firms that handle the technology behind these ads attribute the burgeoning interest to traditional firms’ increasing interest in rich media’s branding capabilities. Many believe they can turn a higher return on investment than regular banner ads. Indeed, a full 98 percent of the Unicast’s advertisers during second quarter were traditional clients, the firm said.

“These statistics demonstrate the strength of the Superstitial format and are testament to its ability to drive increasing revenue to Web sites because of the outstanding and measurable results Superstitial ads provide advertisers,” said Unicast chairman and chief executive Richard Hopple. “It is particularly gratifying that the format is achieving this kind of growth and adoption in the face of a generally accepted downturn in online expenditures.”

That’s precisely why the apparent increase in rich media growth is so baffling. The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently produced statistics pointing to a 7.8 percent decline in overall ad spending — in line with reports of drop-offs in print, out-of-home and broadcast media.

Additionally, Web publishers’ increasing adoption of new, larger ad sizes — many of which lend themselves better to rich media creatives — has helped to promote the media.

“In general, over the last year, we’ve seen success with the larger ad units, like [CNET’s] had, like with New York Times Digital and CBS MarketWatch,” said Bill McCloskey, whose company, Emerging Interest, administers the Macromedia Flash Advertising Alliance, industry consortium. “Combining that with [rich media], you’re seeing certainly an increased interest in delivery of Flash impressions than you probably got about a year ago. ”

As an example of the medium’s potential, Unicast pointed to achievements of several recent campaigns, such as one for the Wall Street Journal‘s site. In that effort, ad agency Trahan Burden & Charles ran a multi-media campaign that saw Superstitial ads accounting for less than one half of one percent of the purchased impressions. Nevertheless, the ads performed far better than other media, resulting in more than 33 percent of all visits to the site’s target page.

“We continue to maintain that when given the standards that they need [and have in other media], advertisers are emboldened to increase their advertising budget allocations online,” Hopple said.

Similarly, Gina Shaffer, who is senior digital marketing manager at Miller Brewing Co., said that a recent Flash campaign designed to drive online registrations boosted user interactivity — judged by clicking activity — 110 times more than standard banners and buttons.

“Clearly, as we look for effective ways to engage consumers online, we consider these one of our top tools,” Shaffer said. “Flash has proven to be an effective technology for us to create consumer interest for our online initiatives.”

Such news bodes well for the beleaguered online ad and publishing industry, and especially for rich media players — which have to date been largely considered a niche, impractically ahead of their time. Indeed, the IAB reports that rich media campaigns account only for about 2 percent of all online impressions bought. But that figure could well be changing, say advocates.

“We see there’s been a huge increase, from having … very little rich media advertising to 2 percent, in a very little time,” said Meredith Searcy, who is director of product marketing for Flash at Macromedia. “People are spending less money overall on lots of impressions, but more on effective impressions. [Traditional marketers] are going to agencies … expecting an online strategy, so it’s really just become established as part of the mix. You’re seeing ad agencies having interactive arms with Flash designers in-house.”

Added Unicast vice president for global marketing Allie Shaw, “These results for the first half of the year are heartening and notable for the industry which is now, more than ever, results oriented. We have a format that works now. It provides quantifiable results and it’s easy to use.”

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