Banner has come in for a lot of stick recently - and you can
understand why. Despite all the talk about the format moving beyond a
pure return-on-investment model and beginning to make a case for itself
as a brand advertising vehicle, you can't get away from the fact that
click-through rates - banner's primary effectiveness model - have
continued to slump.
What to do about it? Apart from panicking, that is. A few weeks ago, the
Internet Advertising Bureau thought it had come up with the answer.
Its cunning plan was to introduce bigger, more in-your-face, intrusive
banner formats. Which, for some, is as close to panicking as makes no
Last week, however, we saw the unveiling of a more subtle approach from
a new outfit called Vibrant Media. Vibrant's service takes as its start
point the proposition that banner ads will make more of an impact if
they're seen in the right context or environment.
This proposition will not seem like much of a blinding revelation to
planners in the old-fashioned paper and ink media, but the fact that
this statement of the obvious is rather new to the web is not entirely
down to woolly thinking.
The web, arguably, is more fragmented. In the old world, you would
advertise niche products in the appropriate niche press or even the
appropriate niche features - but it would be a nightmare to plan and buy
a web campaign on that basis. There are, for instance, hundreds of
thousands of new pages appearing on the net each week.
What Vibrant is doing is bringing niche content on to more mainstream
sites and if you click to see the content, you are also served with an
appropriate banner ad. The first area to be targeted is the IT sector
and participating sites will be given syndicated content from specialist
media companies such as VNU and IDG
The theory is that everybody is happy. The advertiser is getting
advertising that is likely to grab attention. The publisher gets a
syndication fee every time someone clicks through to their content and
Vibrant's founders get extremely rich and retire after a suitable period
to a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
Sorted? Craig Gooding, a partner at Vibrant, hopes so. Gooding and his
co-founder, Doug Stevenson, were previously senior e-commerce managers
with AOL - so they know how important impressive traffic numbers are
when you're selling advertising.
He explains: 'Having been at AOL, we've seen what works with a massive
universe. What we're now doing is allowing people to place advertising
in relevant contextual environments and we're allowing them to do it on
an automated basis by syndicating content on to the page. You're served
with a banner once they have clicked on a headline. The benefit is that
you get to places that don't normally feature on the radar.'
Gooding argues that some of the best and most inventive solutions are
borne of frustration - and he concedes that there has been more than a
little frustration in the banner advertising market: 'I'm not convinced
by the IAB's response to that. We're looking to improve banner, to make
it work - but size isn't the answer. We believe it's about being in the
right place at the right time with the right message. We believe that
this is a win-win situation. The advertisers get a highly targeted model
and the publishers get a pay-per-view model for their content.'
Website operators are certainly interested and, apparently, there has
already been a rapid take-up - within days of launching, the number of
sites participating had risen from 25 to 100. But what about agencies
and their clients? After all, we're still talking about banner
advertising, aren't we? Can targeting and environment paper over the
format's manifest cracks?
Pete Robins, the director of media at Beyond Interactive, says he can
see its potential: 'I think this could be good for the technology market
where the volumes of traffic are not massive. It's like a press buyer
buying into a computer title. Audiences aren't huge but you know what
you are getting. Finance too, probably. It potentially gets them access
to more of a consumer side. Good luck to them - I think there could be a
market for this.'
But why use Vibrant? Why not just do a bit of clever planning and buying
yourself? Why not serve banners directly on to the sites with the
appropriate content? Dick Reed, the head of media at Just Media, is
He can see lots of reasons why it should work. He explains: 'I've always
believed in the right message in the right place at the right time
within the right context - and, yes, this is one of the two ways you can
achieve that. You can, of course, put your message on the right website
but actually this way is potentially even more powerful because you're
attaching a banner to a story that's relevant, not necessarily a website
that's relevant. You're extending the reach.'
Does he think it will deliver? He sees no reason why not. 'We'll be
tracking it through Dart and comparing it with the results from more
traditional campaigns. I don't expect the click rate to be massively
different though. The thing is that the right environment maximises the
brand effect too. It could be important in our sector - with technology
clients. Unfortunately, it makes media buying easier for everyone but
I'm all in favour if it delivers the right message in the right
environment,' Reed argues.