Define ‘New Media’. Take an old concept, re-hash it, call it a media-first (technically speaking), justify it by an out-of-date metric and there you have it.

About twelve years ago I took a company brochure, exported it as HTML using an extension in Quark and called it a website. After all, it had a cover, and index and content. I even told people if I made that cover animated like a TV advert with a huge flash screen it would link TV and print in one go – multi-media. It worked. I made lots of money out of that argument. Until search engines came along…

Suddenly more people were entering a website via any given page within a site then typing in just the URL. I guess it made sense, I can have a great shop, but unless its on the high street who would know it exists? So we saw less and less people were visiting homepages, which meant less and less people saw my Flash animation (though in truth I bet most people skipped it anyway!). To me the company who noticed this and used it to their advantage were Amazon. Not only did they spend huge amounts of money in traditional advertising, but the revolutionised their website by making entry point relevant to what someone was interested in. So you typed in DVD player in a search engine, deep linked to the DVD player page, saw how it rated, what else compared to it, who had one and what else you needed to buy with it to make it really fly. Amazon sold stuff and made money. Ironically, ten years later there are still many beautiful Flash animations on sites out there…

The Flash website became a Flash ad, took over my entire screen and let me play the familiar online game ‘let’s find the close box’. It works by deliberately breaking every user interface guideline by allowing every designer out there to decide what the close box looks like and where it should go and no-one ever said otherwise. It worked. People clicked on them. Lots of people clicked on them – and that was good enough to justify my Flash animation. Fortunately until now not too many people asked if they meant to click or what they did when they got there, else we may reveal another hole in our theories for increasing online spending.

Back to the future and here we are taking Television commercials, backed by broadband penetration (which is apparently ‘anything faster than dial-up’ but we don’t know by how much), amplified by the increased adoption of those Flash adverts now in rectangles that look just like my TV screen – and of course justified by how many people click on them. Ten years later, we take a TV ad, put in online and call it a ‘new-rich-media-video-ad’ and no doubt someone won an award for that idea and called it a ‘media first’. After all people clicked on it. Accidentally?!

Click Thru Rate (CTR) is purely a transitional metric. What you really want to know as a marketer is ‘where was the user going and why’ – and let’s be honest, ‘was it intentional’? Once at that destination you want to know ‘and for how long’ and ‘did they do it’ – whatever that ‘it’ is you want them to do. If it were my company, if I dared ask those questions of display advertising, I think you would find I would place all my money in search. Looking at the figures out there I am not alone as 75% of budgets agree with me.

According to figures out there, users are now spending up to 40% their time (2 hours) online compared to traditional TV viewing (4.5 hours). Up to 20% of that time is cross over – TV in background and laptop on my knee. One of those ‘two-hour’ days per month users are glued to online video content in its various guises. This is just the start.

Advertisers are lagging behind technology companies in speaking the language of the user. Very often established technology companies are awaiting critical mass before scaling up an activity to deliver a commercially viable product offering. The fact remains users are always one step ahead of the rest of us – and to look at how they are consuming content is how better to predict new trends for advertising – and with new requirements for measurement.

So let’s take television – the last Bastian for online to challenge and the largest revenue potential for getting those healthy TV-size budgets into the digital world.

Whilst people are debating whether Blu-ray or HD DVD that will win the day – it’s probably going to be neither. I made the unfortunate mistake of buying a mini-disc player for my home a few years ago. Within a couple of months I finally gave into the pressure of iPod and needless to say I have not touched that mini-disc system since. DVD audio and SuperAudioCD may be a quantum leap that is fantastic for the audiophiles – but I don’t know anyone who have that system set-up? The rest of us accept a lower-end quality MP3 out of sheer convenience and transportability.

Pop round to your friends houses these days. If you are anything like me, you are beginning to notice suddenly people are talking about how they can stream the latest episode of 24 using Vista and xBox around the house, hooking up old PC’s and a few cables and suddenly finding a new use as a ‘media server’. Broadband TV is here, at least in part and a couple of years down the line for every Hi-Def disc I will own, I guarantee I will have 10 if not 100 lower-end videos on my home media server and on some mobile device I carry around with me, and then it will be R.I.P. humble disc carry holdalls.

Contrary to some recent reports I have seen from a well known company, what I am seeing is that video is actually producing less click-thru then other rich media formats out there and hardly surprising when most of the time we see re-hashed 30 second TV ads online. Do we really anticipate that this is race for clickable PreRoll is future for online advertising? This re-hashing of old media is about as effective and innovative as taking that old company brochure online. It also produces the same poor results – partly due to attention span on site and lack of desire to leave what I am doing and mostly due to the online world being a silent environment – hindering those audio-reliant TV ads. I can still remember that a ‘finger of fudge is just enough’ from childhood TV viewing, but couldn’t tell you what that ad looked like, and I still hate fudge. The point being, a different medium needs a different mechanism, and as we move from an information source to an entertainment stream, the user is in a different frame of mind.

People often ask me to help them come-up with a ‘media first’. What they generally mean is what new gimmick or format is going to get me those 5% click-thru rates like those old floating ads did 5 years ago. The answer is nothing.

Vista has shown us that desktop widgets bring the web to the desktop. In a potential world without web browsers, the pop-up blocker is going to be the least of your worries. Global media buys place greater demand on publishers to simplify their ad format offerings and to being more uniformity to ensure they are on the media plan. The fact is site dependant creative production is expensive to gain a few extra clicks, especially if we can obtain the same conversions via a different route.

And there is the key word – conversions. The objectives of any company is to get people to feel good enough about their brand so when they are in the market to buy, they recall that brand back from memory to buy their product or service. The designer role is to assist in that process not develop pointless creative executions and this is defined by objectives.

Is the objective to spend money designing a pretty website and then getting people to this site? Should the objective taking the product or message to the user where they are? Should the objective be to convert the user into a dedicated user and brand advocate? It sounds obvious, yet a lot of the time we use transient metrics to try and justify behaviour of users when if we were to put a monetary value against this, we would terrify most people at the cost per click in display advertising.

If I wanted to sell blenders, I would go to a shopping mall on Saturday morning, set up my stand and demonstrate it working by making a smoothie. I would show them it in action. If I were selling cars, I would want them to get into the car – to drive it for themselves. Touch and feel. And I would want to make it as easy as possible for them – in essence we don’t expect everyone to go to a motor show, we let them do it within easy reach of where they live and work. The same has got to be true online.

Not only that, but when you look at it from a pure psychology side we retain more the more we are involved. Not just seeing, but the more senses involved the more you retain, and when you apply this into some kind of graphical interface design, we need to ensure that a balance of intrusive touchy-feely creative’s allows to enforce that sub-conscious brand awareness so that when I get into that shop, my hand naturally gravitates to picking up one brand of the shelf over the other. This is what TV has been shown to do so well with audio-visual stimuli to the senses backed up by repetition. But online can go a stage further.

Not just intrusive but immersive. Sight and sound and touch.

In a recent study of a brand over a year, looking at standard and rich, some interesting initial findings came to light.

  • High Click-thru Rate does NOT necessarily equal High Conversion
  • High Interaction Rate DOES equal High Conversion
  • Expandables’ double conversion rate over standard ads.

On analysing last 5 views before conversion – over 90% of the adverts that influenced prior to conversion were rich media…And in most cases, the impressions that were more engaging had 4:1 influence on creating a later conversion. To prove the point, they decided to swap a rich creative with a standard and found that conversions dropped so significantly.

To close the gap between television and online, ad technology needs to embrace both. The power of video in passively developing a strong brand association, especially when in as we move into an era when a user maybe engaging with the entertainment content on the move, and the requirement to serve relevant entertaining ad content dynamically irrespective of where that user finds themselves.

And in regards to measurement, rather than focusing on the immediate response, we need to look at how frequency of exposure to any brand, overall length of that exposure to the brand and how that ultimately shifts conversions much later in the day, irrespective of whether a user immediately clicks or not… Though my mother said ‘look with your eyes and not your hands’ when out shopping, I think my kids more then me will be moving that mouse around content and touching and interacting virtually that will send back all sorts of interaction tracking that will be recorded, analysed and utilised to developing learnt responses that can be used for advertising potential.

How many actual eyes saw the ad and what did they do – nothing or something – and how did that ultimately effect their choices and can I learn from this to influence them further somehow? Can I get this person into a brand advocate or can I up sell to them direct?

In the new virtual world, I expect to see a lot more interactive product placement in my entertainment, complemented by carefully placed intrusiveness encouraging me to stop, touch and feel and find out more, with facility to make an impulse decision or the flexibility to allow me to find out more or perhaps store it away until some other later factor persuades me to put my hand in my pocket later on….

But do I expect video to drive clicks? No more then I expect someone to get off the sofa and get up and change the channel when they can’t find the remote!

The more we keep looking for campaigns that justify video equaling immediate response, the greater the divide that exists between the user and the client and this shows the less we really understand what is really important to those advertisers, and ultimately the more we are going to be scraping around fighting over mediocre budgets that will see us just repurposing TV ads or developing some sluggish Flash micro site that no-one ever visits… And then we wonder why advertisers are not confident in shifting money away from TV, even when we can prove that the users are already there.

Let’s face facts, we need to find a way in giving them increased confidence. Click Thru is an out of date metric that should be replaced by frequency and length of exposure (dwell) to brand – and the quicker we do it, coming into line with TV style metrics, the quicker we can close the gap between the 20-40% of users time online and the 5% budget we see allocated against online advertising campaigns…


Some final thoughts;

  • When was the last time you visited Amazon homepage? They stumbled across this phenomenon years ago and made money proving this principle – up selling and cross selling depending upon my requirements and not expecting me to go on a linear journey. The fact is search engines killed them off before most people realised what a website is.
  • Content is king – the online world is not a photocopy of a brochure online with a nice cover and content – it is a dynamic organism that should be developed around “me – the user”.
  • Personalisation of homepages or jump points are now on the desktop – whether using “Today” in MSN Messenger to get a quick overview of stories and my mail, or whether it is desktop widgets and gadgets as proven by Vista, the question is not so much is the homepage dead, but are websites dead? Best not tell any clients this – after all they are still justifying online by ‘click thru’…