Like most Web surfers, you've probably developed a slim, rectangular blind spot that blocks out all those banner ads on Web pages. And even if a particular banner does make it to your optic nerve, you probably wouldn't be moved to click on it anyway--and neither would your online customers.
With so many banner ads hitting the Web, the overall click-through rate is fast approaching a dismal 0.5 percent, says Larry Chase of Chase Online Marketing Strategies in New York City, publisher of online magazine Web Digest For Marketers. Nevertheless, Web advertising continues to appeal to merchants. Jupiter Communications Inc. estimates U.S. advertisers spent $3.2 billion in 1999 decorating Web pages with their marketing messages--up 52 percent from 1998.
But a change is in the works. An increasing amount of spending is going not to old-style banners, but to a variety of new Web advertising schemes that promise to grab more eyeballs and turn lookers into buyers. Their secret: marry the seductiveness of television's moving images and high-quality audio to the interactivity of computers. The result: ads that can fill your PC's screen; that invite surfers to take quizzes, fill out surveys and play games; or that show animated cartoons and even full-motion video clips.
The new ads also instantly process online orders for goods and services, bringing viewers to the advertiser without requiring them to click away. No longer do sites have to weigh the benefits of advertising revenues against the cost of losing their audience every time someone clicks on a banner.
Helping revolutionize the Web advertising game are companies such as At Home Corp., AudioBase Inc., BlueStreak.com Inc., Thinking Media and Unicast Inc. These companies' ads look pretty much like ordinary banners at first glance. But one click and they spring into action with enhanced audio, video and new browser windows.
While obviously more captivating than traditional banners, rich media ads do present some technical challenges. Because they're more complex to create and modify, it may take a merchant longer to revise the elements of an ongoing ad campaign, so the ad technology companies are scrambling to improve the creative tools they supply ad agencies. These new ads also require more bytes of digital data than mere banners, which limits how quickly they can open up on a surfer's screen.
That's one reason Madison Avenue is excited to see broadband Internet service reaching a growing portion of the population. Sending data 10 to 20 times faster than today's standard 56K dial-up modem connections, broadband links will give Net-delivered ads all the visual and aural punch of TV commercials--and, with the PC's brains mixed in, interactivity as well.
John W. Verity reported and edited for 23 years at Electronic News, Datamation and Business Week. Since 1997, he has been freelancing from his Brooklyn, New York, home.