I-RECALL: Spotlight On - Vibrant Media. Can Vibrant Media breathe life back into banner advertising? The new company aims to place banners on relevant sites, Alasdair Reid writes

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

using Vibrant.

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.


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