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What Makes People Click: Advertising on the Web
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The Buck Spangled Banner
Little did Hotwired know when it started taking ads in October, 1994, that it would be setting a defacto standard. Banner shape, size, and location were heretofore unknown and unconsidered attributes until they hit Hotwired. Since this was the only example, it was much easier to go with the flow than reinvent the deal.
The Net is nothing if not inventive, creative, and anarchic. People are still experimenting with different shapes, sizes, and types of ads, not to mention different business models. But the banner has become the focus of Internet advertising for the time being and it's where your focus should be as well.
It is the banner's lot in life to grab people's attention. A range of banner types have been tried out on the Web with varying degrees of success. Some are explored here, including animated banners, Java banners, and streaming banners that can process orders where they sit. But before banners get too unique and too out of control, there are those who would impose standards. Oops, excuse me, "suggest voluntary guidelines." But that's not really a bad thing after all. n
The banner is the Web's mainstay because it is simple to explain and easy to understand. You can equate it with print advertising in an instant; rules of frequency and reach are easily applied; you can buy banners by the thousand; they take up a specific amount of space. Well, almost.
Picture if you will, thousands of Web sites developed by people from thousands of backgrounds all playing with the same colors of Playdough. There is no limit to the size, shape, style, or iteration of the final creation. The limit, as has been true to form on the Web in general, has been imagination. This is part of the glory of the World Wide Web; everybody has an instant soapbox; everybody is an artist; everybody is a publisher.
When the word spread that there were those who would bind this new-born banner to a set size and shape, the outcry was swift and indignant. Take the creative power out of the hands of the people and stuff it into a mold? Make everybody conform? Go wash your mouth out with soap and pray to the God of Individuality that you won't be struck down in your prime by a server flung from a passing truck!
Of course, this was the same reaction heard when it was suggested that the Internet might be a good place for commerce. Blasphemy! Sacrilege! The Internet is the realm of the researcher, the student, and the Ph.D. It is the home of the high thinker and the seat of pure reason. There's no place here for dirty and profane mercantilism!
I am reminded of the graffiti I saw on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon. Amidst wistful suggestions that we "Give the Canyon Back to the Indians" was a rather startling screed in angry lettering several inches high insisting, "RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!!" Under that, in a clear and spare hand, was written, "Silly boy, you're sitting on the machine."
As commerce was inevitable on the Internet, so too is banner standardization. The value of pressing your favorite color of Playdough into a mold was not lost on kids all over the world. And the value of Web banners as interchangeable parts has not been wasted on banner space sellers or banner creators.
When Web sites are built by two guys in a garage who are selling ad space for whatever they think they can get that week, then the world belongs to the creative types and the free- thinkers. When Web advertising becomes a sector of commerce, standards help grease the wheels of industry. Buying an ad on the Ashland High School DECA Page (http://www. grizzly.ashland.or.us) (see Figure 3.1) for $5 a month is a shrewd buy for those selling Oregonean grizzly bear t-shirts. And I'm sure the students in Ashland High's marketing classes will be quite flexible with your desires for a full page ad, a vertical ad, an ad that paints the background of the whole page, or an audio ad.
Fig. 3.1 Ashland High's banner standards might be a bit more flexible...
But if your plans include reaching a tad further than high schoolers in the home of the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, you might have to conform to a common size. People who serve thousands of banners each day, like Yahoo! (see Figure 3.2), rely on automation to serve up banners on-the-fly. They don't create a static page that includes a specific ad. Instead, they have the computer generate each page dynamically, as users click links. Every page has a set spot for ads and every ad fits that spot.
Fig. 3.2 ...Yahoo!'s automated banner server...
When ads are served from a common database like ad network DoubleClick (www. doubleclick.com) (see Figure 3.3), then your ads must fit their needs exactly. After all, they're serving ads to over 70 sites. All of those sites have to conform to the DoubleClick banner specifications as do all of the advertisers. The alternative would be chaos.
I don't advocate banner standardization solely for the benefit of those who want to commoditize ads as fast and as economically possible. There's also value for the person creating the ad.
Let's say you wanted to advertise on the ESPNET SportsZone (espnet.sportszone.com), and the Time-Warner Pathfinder (pathfinder.com), and USA Today (www.usatoday.com), and the Tennis Server (www.tennisserver.com), and the Internet Underground Music Archive (www.iuma.com). And let's say they each had their own regulation size and shapes. You'd have to create five different ads. You'd have to have your graphic artist alter the layout, which would alter the design, which would alter the message for each venue. With an industry standard in place, you can create one ad that runs across the board.
Not only do you save on graphic design expenses, you can more accurately track which location is best suited to your message. If all your ads are thematically the same, then the results you get must be related to their placement. Change too many variables from ad to ad and your ability to measure effectiveness gets muddied pretty quickly. Fig. 3.3 ...or DoubleClick's network of over 70 sites.
The two groups to watch are CASIE and the IAB. They've taken on the mantle of protectors of the realm. The IAB's charter is made clear on their Web site (www.edelman.com/IAB/index.html): The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) (www.edelman.com/IAB) is the only industry association devoted exclusively to promoting the use and effectiveness of advertising on the Internet. General members include companies that are actively engaged in the sales of advertising. The organization membership also consists of companies that support advertising sales activities such as measurement companies, research suppliers, traffic companies and organizations from related industries. However, Doug Weaver, VP of Advertising and Web Publishing for Firefly Network, Incorporated (www.ffly.com), and one of over 180 IAB members, says that the real goal is to find ways to get more people to spend real money on Web advertising. Since members "include companies that are actively engaged in the sales of advertising," it's a very understandable goal.
CASIE is the Coalition for Advertising Supported Information and Entertainment (www.commercepark.com/AAAA/casie/index.html), a joint committee between the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers. The mission is to "Create an environment where consumers have the broadest possible array of high-quality media options at the lowest possible cost. To accomplish this, we believe that advertising revenue must be a key funding source for information and entertainment in the evolving world of media."
CASIE's Key Areas of Focus are stated in its Mission Statement as:
- 1. Promote existing advertising-supported entertainment and information services.
2. Encourage providers of new services to rely on advertising as a key funding source.
3. Research and track consumer use and acceptance of new media services.
4. Ensure the adoption of technical standards for hardware and software by industry and government that facilitate: a) delivery of programming and advertising that allows everyone to `plug and play' on all systems without re-authoring; and b) simple consumer access for programming and advertising.
5. Be proactive and involved with Federal [sic] and state legislation and regulation. Advocate and promote a minimalist approach to the legislation and regulation of telecommunications.
So when these two august bodies come together to spawn a banner-sizing standard, it's an offspring worth noting. On December 10, 1996, that offspring was introduced to the world.
According to the joint press release, "The standards were created in response to industry-wide concern about the proliferation of types and sizes of banners which are the most commonly used form of advertising on the Internet today. According to industry estimates, more than 250 different banners are in use."
"The proliferation of banners has created a massive problem for advertisers and their agencies, which sometimes have to create their ads in 50 or more sizes," said Mike Donahue, Senior Vice President, AAAA. "These voluntary guidelines will greatly streamline the advertising production and placement process and contribute to the overall growth of Internet advertising."
Both groups are quick to point out that they are not laying down the law. Moreover, they don't even call it a standard: it's a "voluntary guideline." In a well-practiced dance of political correctness, they point out that the medium is young, there's a lot of experimentation ahead, and they don't want to discourage any other forms of advertising. However, if your canvas of choice is the banner, then they are happy to offer eight typical sizes. Think of it as going to the art or photography supply store. Do you want a frame for an 8x10 or a 10x12?
The proposal reads:
PROPOSAL FOR VOLUNTARY MODEL BANNER SIZES
Banners have become a significant means of advertising and source of revenue on the World Wide Web. The number of types of banners and sizes have proliferated. In a recent survey, IAB members stated that this proliferation of banner types and sizes is inefficient and confusing and that identifying a baseline model would result in benefits for both buyers and sellers of advertising on the Web. Advertisers, agencies and media companies have asked the CASIE and the IAB to consider these issues.
In response to requests from the advertising community the Standards and Practices Committee of the IAB with input from CASIE has used market data to examine the full range of banner types, for example, vertical, horizontal, half and button, and sizes currently in use. The Committee has identified the following as the most commonly accepted:
|392x72||Full Banner with Vertical Navigation Bar|
Use of any of these sizes as a model or standard is strictly voluntary. The IAB and CASIE recognize and intend that its member companies and the advertising community remain free to experiment with, use, adopt, and propose other sizes and types of banners. The two groups also recognize that websites which chose to implement these models may wish to do so over a period of several months to allow those who sell space or create banner content to make any adjustments.
Banners are currently the primary form of Internet and interactive advertising. However, the IAB and CASIE encourage the continuing exploration of other advertising models such as interstitial pages, push advertising (including PointCast, Marimba and BackWeb) microsites, web advertorials and sponsored activities
To facilitate the continued growth of the medium and the industry, the Standards & Practices Committee of the IAB plans to convene six conferences during the coming year, three on each coast, to discuss the benefits of voluntary standards or models for emerging formats and to release additional proposals as appropriate. The IAB will continue to work closely with CASIE in fostering these discussions and invites all interested parties to participate.
Take a peek at the leading ad buyer on the Net and you'll see smiles. Microsoft went all out with their promotion of version 3.0 of their Internet Explorer. Those banners were unavoidable. Spread out over 75 of the most popular Web sites, Microsoft had to come up with 180 different banner sizes. Different pages had different spaces and the team in Redmond didn't want to be left out. Their ad agency, Anderson & Lembke, figured Microsoft could have saved $50,000 on the launch alone.
Not slow on the uptake, Microsoft decided to make good on that estimate. Through Anderson & Lembke, they circulated a letter to sites selling advertising warning that standard-sized banners would be an important factor in their media-buying criteria.
"Starting March 1, 1997, Anderson & Lembke will be using these standard banner sizes for all our interactive clients' media plans. Sites which have not adopted these standards will be at a significant disadvantage in the selection process when evaluated against sites who have adopted the standards."
There's plenty of "or else" in that statement and Anderson & Lembke is Microsoft's primary agency. Microsoft has said "frog," and many Web sites breathed a sigh of relief because now they know exactly how high to jump.
Lest you be despondent at the thought of being forced to work with a limited number of pixels and having to spend hours squeezing your creation to fit the mold, there is help on the Web. GIF Wizard Ad-O-Matic (www.raspberryhill.com/gifwiz/adomatic.html) (see Figure 3.4) is out there, waiting to help you turn your artistic masterpiece into a standard banner format.
Fig. 3.4 GIF Wizard Ad-O-Matic will resize your banner for 35 ad formats.
GIF Wizard checks and corrects your banner to meet the right GIF format, width, height, animation prohibitions, transparency prohibitions, and file size restrictions. It will even make sure you comply with the CASIE/IAB guidelines (see Figure 3.5).
Fig. 3.5 GIF Wizard knows how to resize your banner to meet the CASIE/IAB guidelines.
Banner sizes aren't the only standards under discussion. Wouldn't it be nice if you could send information to and from your ad agencies that would be recognized on sight? How about finding which sites are offering ad space for sale? This is a young industry and these questions are just starting to be asked. Suggested answers are floating around in the form of trial balloons waiting for updrafts or pins.
Simple Advertising Management Protocol Aside from having an unfortunate acronym, SAMP (www.focalink.com/home/pp) is described on the Focalink Web site as an "open protocol for communicating Web advertising traffic information, ad materials and performance data." In English, this means being able to communicate with various ad agencies, Web banner makers, and Web sites selling space in a common format.
Jump-started by Focalink Communications and Bellcore (www.bellcore.com), SAMP is intended to ease the process of "sending traffic instructions to sites that specify which ads appear when and where, transferring of actual ad materials, and sending back reports on campaign performance."
The problem they're trying to solve is the aggravation experienced by advertisers when dealing with multiple sites which use multiple ad management systems--a lot of which are home-grown systems. If you can send a banner and the same batch of data about that banner to every site you want to advertise on, you can save a bottle or two of aspirin a month.
Advertising Information File As of April, 1997, the Online Advertising Discussion List had more than 3,800 subscribers, and was growing at a rate of about 40 subscribers per week. It's a fairly lively debate and well worth a look (www.o-a.com). Pondering the issues of how to use technology to make life easier for banners producers and displayers, Mark J. Welch, curator of the astonishingly useful Web Site Banner Advertising: Banner Ad Networks & Brokers page (www.ca-probate.com/comm_net.htm), offered the following:
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 13:58:14 -0800
From: "Mark J. Welch, Esq." <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: ONLINE-ADS>> Proposal: AD-INFO.TXT file (Ad Registries)
I would like to make a humble suggestion: why doesn't someone create a standard list of data and file descriptor for a file of "advertising information" to be maintained at each web site? Thus, when I update the advertising information at my site, I could simply do so by updating the file and then `robots' from each company operating an advertising directory could check my site for that update.
I'd certainly take more interest in providing updates about advertising on my web pages if I could simply update a single file at my site and have a number of services automatically gather that data. I'm sure that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of web publishers would feel the same way.
The file format should be flexible, so that each vendor could specify optional or required fields for its service (but with no `secret' data available only to one service)--kind of like HTML with meta tags, or SGML.
Of course, if the format were useful, someone would write nifty software utilities to automate many update tasks (such as automatically posting current statistics into the file from a stats program). Indeed, I would expect that the next generation of `web site design' software would automatically generate this file and update it as web publishers add new content to their sites.
This sort of off-the-cuff suggestion has previously spawned new products, new companies, and new industries. No matter where they come from, good ideas about standardization are sure to start showing up fast and furious. Nature abhors a vacuum and industry likes it even less--especially the computer industry. Watch this space.
Regardless of the shape, size, and placement of the banner, standard or otherwise, its goal is the same--grab the attention of the person sitting in front of the screen and engage them.
The challenge is to have as much impact as possible in a space that's essentially an inch high and eight inches long. It sounds like a tiny piece of real-estate. Imagine trying to squeeze something provocative in the space of a 1/8 display ad in a magazine. On TV you might think of it as a five-second spot. But given the state of the art, it's actually a bigger area than it sounds.
In practice, banners are more eye-catching than the rest of the screen. They can blink, bounce, and whirl. They can also be the first image to load so they're the center of attention. They can be at the top of the page as well as at the bottom. They can show up right in the middle of the article you're trying to read.
The typical banner lives near the top, under the Web page masthead, or title, and it works hard to distract people from their appointed rounds. Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0 and well-known technology observer, likes to point out that the most important finite resource in the late 20th century is people's attention. When you're trying to distract them from Web activities, your creative has to work much harder than other media.
When sitting on the couch in full potato-mode, the average human requires several seconds to recognize that the television show that has them mesmerized has been replaced by an ad. They are at rest. The idea of sitting down in the evening to watch TV implies that the kids have been fed, the pets have been let in or out, and it's time to relax for a spell.
Your ad only has a few seconds to capture their imagination before they leap up and head for the kitchen. Even worse, with a minuscule flick of their thumb on the remote, they can send your half-minute masterpiece into video purgatory. But you do have a few seconds to grab them by the throat and stop their train of thought long enough for them to get the message.
Sitting in front of the television for an hour takes an hour. But it's a different hour than is spent elsewhere. The TV watcher's experience of an hour of TV time is relative compared to other activities where they might encounter your ad. Let's give the perception of this hour in front of the tube a rating of H1.
With a rating of only H1, the expectation of a TV ad having some important information is pretty low. It may be entertaining, it may be amusing, it may be just noise. But it isn't keeping them from anything really important, so they watch. An hour goes by pretty fast and soon; it's time for bed. H1.
The mood is different when it comes to reading a magazine. It may well happen in front of the television, but more likely it'll be over lunch, on public transportation, in the bathroom, or in bed. People reading magazines are more involved with the media than when they watch TV. They have to create pictures in their heads based on the words they read. They think about what they're reading, rather than letting images from the television wash over them while they wait for the next murder, car chase, or explosion.
People reading magazines are actively looking for information. They want to know about the latest in fishing flies, fruit-filled pies, or Whitehouse lies. They're seeking. Because this time with a magazine is more concentrated and uses a more focused attention, one hour deserves a perceptual rating of H2--it feels like two hours in front of the idiot box.
It's harder to catch their eye as they flick from page to page. They're concentrating on what kind of bulbs they want for their spring garden. If your ad is for the most beautiful irises money can buy, you probably hit the right person at the right time and made a sale. It's not so easy on the Web.
Surfing the Web warrants a perception rating of H7. First of all, you're not in the comfort of your den, resting languidly on your couch. You're not casually sipping tea while leafing through the latest issue of the New Yorker. You're not even remotely comfortable.
You are sitting in a chair designed to be good for you rather than cozy. You are perched in front of a device that was designed by engineers rather than artists. You are at work. You are looking for something. This is borne out by the PC-Meter Sweeps Q4 1996--Top 25 Consumer Web Sites (www.npd.com/q4cht1.htm) (see Figure 3.6). They found that six of the top dozen were search engines.
Fig. 3.6 PC-Meter shows search engines as the most often visited category on the Web.
Web surfing is fascinating. Web surfing is entertaining. Web surfing is downright fun. For a while. Then the Web becomes a means to an end; a tool for finding that one piece of information you need to finish that report, finish installing that sound card, or finish learning about that case of measles your son brought home from school. It's work.
One solid hour in front of the computer does not go by in the blink of an eye. You are focused and concentrating and engaged. At this point, shaking you from your intended goal is not going to be easy.
The job of the banner is to totally derail your train of thought. As you sit before your key- board in anticipation of a pointer to the answer to all of your measles fears, up pops an ad that says, "Organic Gardening Isn't Just A Bunch Of Manure. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT WHY" (see Figure 3.7).
Fig. 3.7 Want to know about measles? How about gardening instead?
So you see the problem. Trying to make a person on a mission, with a specific goal in mind, engaged in an H7 activity that ranks 7 times more engrossing than television, go to a site hosted by a federation of national and local environmental and conservation charities. It's a stretch.
These types of banners on the Web are not the most engrossing pieces of art. They're not the most exciting bits of information. Most of them don't rate a second glance. Figure 3.8 through Figure 3.13 are examples of the typical banner ad cluttering up content sites these days.
Fig. 3.8 BigYellow offers advice.
Fig. 3.9 Women's Wire avoids being precise.
Fig. 3.10 Firefly overdoes concise.
Fig. 3.11 Holiday Inn uses the tie-in device.
Your ad has to be so arresting, so compelling, so interesting, to completely derail a train of thought and make that hand slide over and click!
Fig. 3.12 Microsoft tries to entice.
In an attempt to be as arresting as possible, the first impulse is to make the banner as eye-catching as possible. If you do, you fall into the First Trap of the Internet: using too much bandwidth.
I don't care if your banner is a still photograph of your product or a movie of your smiling CEO, it's too darn big. Yes, we covered the 468x60 pixel size limitation previously, but this is about file size, not screen size.
A 468x60 banner file can be 10K, it can be 100K, it can be 1,000K (that's a megabyte, by the way) and still look just the same. The difference is: a) how it was created, and b) how long it takes to download.
The Least Amount of Technology You Need to Understand When somebody clicks a link to your Web site, they don't come to your site, it goes to them. Here's how it works with an ad:
- 1. The user clicks.
2. A message is sent to the server of the site you paid to display your ad.
3. The server finds the page the user wants and reads it.
4. The server determines that the page in question is made up of some text and several images, one of which is your ad.
5. The server sends the page and then starts sending the images. It may have all of them on its hard disk, or it may pull your ad from your server, or the server of a network agency that worries about that for you (see Chapter 6, "Looking for Space In All the Right Places").
6. The page and the associated images are broken up into packets of about 1K each. A one-kilobyte NotePad file on Windows 95 can hold the words found in this sentence and that's about it. Each packet contains the address of the client to whom it's going.
7. The packets are sent out onto the Internet to fend for themselves. They can all take different routes to get to the user's machine, it doesn't matter.
8. When the packets arrive at the user's machine, they are re-assembled into real files, stored on the hard drive in a cache (temporary) file, and displayed in the user's browser of choice.
Now comes the problem. With all of this going on, there are several areas along the way that can slow down the whole process.
- 1. The user clicks. Nope, not much there we can do anything about.
2. A message is sent to the server of the site you paid to display your ad. Here's where the trouble starts. The message is sent by the user's machine to the user's access provider.
a) The connection between the user and the access provider may be a 14.4 modem. Unless you're certain your prospective customers will only be looking at your ad from their cubicles with dedicated, blindingly fast T1 lines, you can be pretty sure that they're on a 28.8 modem, at best.
b) The access provider's gateway machine is busy with other click-happy users.
c) The message goes out from the access provider to his or her access provider where there's another gateway machine (see b).
d) The message goes out over the Internet backbone, which can be slow if it's presidential election night, there's another OJ verdict, or the Supreme Court makes a ruling about obscenity on the Internet.
3. The server finds the page the user wants and reads it. It may be that the site on which you have chosen to advertise is one of the most popular presidential election results sites around. It may be that it is serving up lots of ads for lots of people. That means it takes a while before it can get around to the user's request for a page.
4. The server determines that the page in question is made up of some text and several images, one of which is your ad. See #3.
5. The server sends the page and then starts sending the images. See #3.
6. The page and the associated images are broken up into packets of about 1K each. See #3.
7. The packets are sent out onto the Internet to fend for themselves. See #2. And another twist is added here. If your ad is coming from an advertisement service server (like DoubleClick or Excite, see Chapter 6, "Looking for Space In All the Right Places"), then there is another message that goes from the site your ad is displayed on to the site on which your ad actually lives. This is the same as #1, and you have to go through Steps 1 through 7 for your ad, which is coming from a different machine.
8. When the packets arrive at the user's machine, they are re-assembled into real files, stored on the hard drive in a cache (temporary) file, and displayed in the user's browser of choice. Now you have to deal with the question of the end user's machine. Are you dealing with a state-of-the-art UNIX workstation with gobs of memory? Or are you dealing with the old 386 PC that your prospective customer brought home from the office when they upgraded her machine there?
You only Have One Shot at a First Impression Each of the previous steps plays a part in getting your message to your prospect. If any of those steps cause your message to show up late, the user has two possible impressions: poor or none.
Picture a television set that took from one second to sixty seconds to change channels. Oh, you say, one second isn't that long. Remember, you're used to changing channels in the time it takes to snap your fingers. Now think about the difference between snap and "one-thousand-one" (or "one-chimpanzee" if you grew up in my house). Now multiply that by sixty and you have a good idea how frustrating it is to wait for a banner ad to load.
So the first impression your prospect has of you is that you are making it difficult for them to do whatever it is they're trying to accomplish. The alternative impression is no impression at all.
I'm a pretty consistent user of AltaVista (www.altavista.digital.com), and I'm pretty adept at scrolling down to the found documents before the ad shows up. When AltaVista replies to a search, the masthead, the banner ad, and the introductory text take up the entire page on my terminal (see Figure 3.14).
Because the text shows up before the banner, it's quite simple for me to miss the ad while anxiously awaiting the fruits of AltaVista's labors (see Figure 3.15). I'm busy scrolling down the page while AltaVista is busy painting the banner at the top. The top of the page has scrolled off the top of the screen before the banner is in place.
But you can rest assured that the site hosting your ad has registered this event as an impression and will happily charge you for it.
With All that Against You--Don't Fall Flat on Creative In a classic example of poor creative meets bad placement on an H7 medium, you have the entry from Proctor & Gamble, shown in Figure 3.16.
Let's assume you're deeply interested in Aboriginal studies at the moment and you are thrilled to find that Yahoo! has an entire category on same. You are mere seconds away from making the vast Internet open its secret databases to your inquiring mind.
But wait! Before you click, you notice the banner demanding that you "CLICK HERE TO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE." Surrounded by modern-day hieroglyphics, these words are baffling. They decided to play the curiosity card and it seems to be working. You are just about to let your curiosity get the best of you when you see the words just below the banner that say, "Click Here for The Tide Clothesline."
Fig. 3.13 Parent Soup hopes chat will suffice.
Fig. 3.14 AltaVista fills the screen and forces the user to scroll to see found documents.
Fig. 3.15 While the ad banner is painting, the surfer is scrolling and may never see the ad.
The Tide Clothesline? Foreign language? It's all too much, and, just as they had hoped, you click, just to find out what these people are up to. And what do you find? Well, the Tide Clothesline, of course (see Figure 3.17). But when you arrive, you realize you can leave your English-Whatever, Whatever-English phrase-book behind.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing at all, on this page that ties in with learning a foreign language. The message is clear: "We're Procter & Gamble. We know everything there is to know about being clean. You're surfing the Internet. Everybody knows that people who surf the Internet are hygienically challenged. You don't even speak our language."
It's enough to make you want to throw in the towel and join the group calling for an end to standards, the end to commercialism on the Net, and rally to give the Grand Canyon back to the Indians.
Raising the Bar There's nothing that can be done about bad creative but lament and pray you can do better. It's a fine art. I'll try to divine its mysterious ways in order to give you a bit of an edge in Chapter 7, "What Makes People Click?" In the meantime, the state of the banner technology art marches on.
In an effort to provide more eye-appeal and increase the number of times people click (without overtaxing the systems that hold the Internet together), the Weberati have fallen back on the tried and true--technology. They went and animated the banner.
Fig. 3.16 Proctor & Gamble placed a curious banner on a curious spot.
Fig. 3.17 Your quest for a new language ended up leaving you twisting in the wind.
Animation has come to the Web banner in a handful of ways and the results are all pretty much the same; it takes longer to download and it makes more people click. A closer look at the higher clickthrough numbers will be found in Chapter 7, "What Makes People Click?" Here, a few basics are covered, such as the different types of animation and how they look.
I promise not to delve into the technical intricacies of programming computer animation. Creating animation belongs to the graphic artists and the technicians. They can worry about whether you should use an animated gif (a series of still pictures in an animation loop), or streaming technology (a constant stream of image data sent to the browser to play a whole clip in quasi-real time), or Shockwave files (requiring your prospects to have already downloaded and installed the Shockwave plug-in).
I'll leave that to people like Nicola Brown, Peter Chen, David Miller, and Paul Van Eyk, who put together Designing Web Animation, published by New Riders, August 1996, and Dave Taylor, who authored the more up-to-date Creating Cool HTML 3.2 Web Pages, published by IDG Books, January 1997. They know what your programmers and graphic artists should know.
You should worry about bandwidth and whether your ad is doing the job--just as you don't pay strict attention to how your brochures are printed, you only worry that they look right. A quick trip to some of the places that show banners for a living and you're sure to come across some that move.
AltaVista was my very favorite marketing Web site. In fact, I wrote an article about it in Webmaster magazine (November, 1996, www.web-master.com) which included, in part:
The AltaVista search engine is a database of all the Web sites its spider can find, coupled with an index and a query tool. Did we really need another Web site to help us find Web sites? What could DEC offer that would make a difference? Why should AltaVista be getting more than 14 million hits per day? And if it's that popular, why isn't DEC selling banner space?
Because AltaVista Vista is a gift. It's DEC's way of giving back to the Net. In the spirit of that first gaggle of guys who were trying to make this gizmo work, DEC has created a search tool for the masses. It is giving freely of its development time, its hardware and its customer service department to make the world a little better place to live.
And the tooth fairy and Santa Claus are buying me a winning Lottery ticket this afternoon.
Digital isn't selling ad space because AltaVista is itself an ad. It's an ad for Alpha computers, and it's a doozy. If you're looking for something out there on the Web, AltaVista is a fast way to find it. Very fast. Of course, running your query engine in 6 GB of RAM across 10 processors is a great way to expedite a search, and that's just one of five systems behind AltaVista. But as always with advertising, it's the perception that counts.
`Jeepers Clem, that li'l ol' Alpha sure do put on some speed.'
`Yup, I reckon we oughta get us one o' them for the dynamic multi-dimensional analysis of our consolidated enterprise data.'
Is this a successful marketing model for the Alpha? It certainly hasn't hurt. In DEC's third quarter of fiscal '96, big Alpha systems sales were up 60 percent. And the company has moved into a whole new product line: DEC now has an AltaVista Software Products division.
Under the vision banner of `OnSite Computing,' DEC is offering AltaVista Search, AltaVista Mail, AltaVista Forum for conferencing, AltaVista Manager for applications and network connections inventory, AltaVista Firewall and AltaVista Tunnel security tools. This is not to say that DEC wouldn't have gone into these businesses anyway, but with AltaVista Vista it discovered something that Sun Microsystems had already learned: Sometimes the child outshines the parent.
Scott McNealy, after finishing his usual round of Microsoft bashing at Comdex 1996, in Chicago, said that within a year Java had become a bigger brand name than Sun. DEC saw the writing on the wall and named its Internet software products division after something that had garnered significant, positive attention out on the Net. Smart move.
AltaVista often shows up in lists of surfers' favorite search tools. It's so popular that Yahoo! forsook its venture-capital cousin Infoseek for AltaVista. And, yes, I use it myself, all the time. It's fast. It's easy. It has no commercials!
Fig. 3.18 The Internet makes strange bedfellows, including this ad from IBM on the Digital AltaVista site...
In December, 1996, DEC decided to make a move to deliberately spoil the entire premise of my insightful article--they started selling ads. And, in the never-ending absurdity that is the Internet, the first ads they ran were for IBM! Go figure. Why am I telling you all this here? Because AltaVista's first ad was an animated gif. The first view is seen in Figure 3.18 and the final is seen in Figure 3.19.
As people figured out how to make the most of it, animation became more attention-grabbing. One example is this series from Infoseek (see Figure 3.20 through Figure 3.24).
Fig. 3.19 ... which was an animated gif.
Fig. 3.20 Infoseek steps you through the stages of downloading...
Fig. 3.21 ...while you wait...
Fig. 3.22 ...and wait....
Fig. 3.23 ....while they make their point...
The Infoseek banner worked hard. It grabbed the eye, it offered a solution to one of the most frustrating problems on the Internet, and it moved fast enough in the telling that the person seated in front of his or her H7 computer wasn't annoyed.
Another eye-catching banner came from Music Boulevard. The picture of four tongues hanging out, as shown in Figure 3.25, definitely caught the eye. The follow up frames are shown in Figure 3.26 and Figure 3.27.
Fig. 3.24 ..about their new Quickseek software.
Fig. 3.25 Music Boulevard stops you with the disrespectful tongues that get labeled with the names of bands...
Fig. 3.26 then switches to a bad pun...
Cadillac came along with a nice drive down the center of the fairway with this animated series. The road sign with the golfer on it (see Figure 3.28 through Figure 3.31) ties their upscale cars to upscale golfers.
Fig. 3.27 ...then finishes with their tag line.
Fig. 3.28 The golfer pulls back...
Fig. 3.29 ...connects with the ball...
Fig. 3.30 ...sends it flying across the billboard for the Seville STS...
Fig. 3.31 ...and eventually sinks the ball onto the end of the tag sentence, where it becomes the period.
The final example of animation must be seen to be appreciated. Unfortunately, this ad doesn't exist in its natural state anymore. It lived on the home page of the USA Today site (www.usatoday.com) (see Figure 3.32).
Fortunately, the ad lives in a preserved state on one of the best Web advertising resources on the Net: Microscope (www.pscentral.com).
The Microscope Weekly Web Ad Review
You can see the Honda sport utility vehicle perform at www.pscentral.com/20397/review1.html, thanks to the efforts of Steve St. Clair and Rich Paschall. These two well-documented ad men took it upon themselves to provide some applause for what they thought were a few of the best banners each week.
In doing so, they have unwittingly created a historical archive of a turning point in advertising history. This site is well worth a look and well worth a bookmark. A large tip of the hat to Steve and Rich.
In February of 1997, the USA Today Travel button shown in the upper-left corner of Figure 3.32 was replaced with a Honda sport utility vehicle (see Figure 3.33). As you watched, the vehicle drove down the page, under the column of text, looking like a mole traveling under your manicured front lawn. At the bottom, it disappeared for a moment, and then popped out in a banner in the lower-right corner of the window (see Figure 3.34 and Figure 3.35).
Fig. 3.32 USA Today had one of the best animated ads ever.
This wasn't just a wowzer of a way to attract your attention (and it was); it also was a Web re-enactment of the Honda television ads where that same vehicle was seen driving through an entire newspaper. The cross-promotional element was ideal. Brilliant. A great example of the technology fitting the message.
Animation is fun, it's trippy, it's silly, and it sure gets attention. In one of those statistical anomalies that happens on the Internet, any technology that's new gets attention. Animated banner? Great! I'll click it to see what else these people have come up with. Oh, it's a site selling laundry detergent?!? Get me outta here! Besides, I'm in search of the next tech legerdemain!
Fig. 3.33 The Honda vehicle started at the top of the USA Today page...
Fig. 3.34 ... worked its way under the text...
Fig. 3.35 ... and popped out at the bottom in a different banner box.
The next tech toy turned out to be a natural. Once people realized that banners could be more than just HTML, they started getting creative. After all, these are computers you're dealing with here and all you have to do is figure out the right software. Some of that figuring was done for you by people like Macromedia, which made browser plug-ins such as Shockwave (www.macromedia.com).
People had been using Shockwave for a little over a year when somebody thought it might be fun to shock a banner.
The first example to hit the screen was a Shockwave animation from Hewlett-Packard that let you play Pong against the computer (see Figure 3.36).
Fig. 3.36 HP memorialized Pong in this banner. The animation and interaction drew attention but didn't stick around for long.
As the puck bounce from side to side, an introductory message scrolled across the top: "Jerry here. I'm the HP engineer who designed this thing. It was supposed to be an ad banner, but, well, let's just say the coffee started to flow and things got a little weird around here. Kind of like when we made the mopier collate. You want to play? You're the one on the right. Go crazy."
Until HP changes its mind, you can still play with this one at www.hp.com/go/mopier.
But Shockwave wasn't necessary once people realized that a banner could be more than a simple graphic or a complex animation file. It could also include some HTML of its own.
The example of CondéNet's Epicurious, in Figure 3.37, added an HTML form that acted as a search tool. This quiet little banner allowed you to enter the name of your favorite culinary ingredient: hit "search."
Fig. 3.37 A little HTML can be a powerful thing, as shown in this banner from Epicurious.
The result was to take you to the Epicurious site where a search had been performed and a very long list of recipes displayed, which included the ingredient of your choice (see Figure 3.38).
Modem Media (www.modemmedia.com) has been creating online marketing for more than ten years. One of their vision statements is to "Create `advertising' so compelling, they'll think it's a service." Jim Davis, Director of Creative and Brand Strategies, was downright impassioned at an Internet World conference where he told the audience to take the very best their Web sites have to offer and "bannerize the experience." The idea is to put your best foot forward and spread it around the Web as far and wide as possible where more and more people can be exposed to what you have to offer.
The team at Netgravity (www.netgravity.com) makes banner serving software and helped create some banners for a few clients. They certainly understood the advertising-as-service philosophy when they created this recipe search banner for Epicurious. Besides many other wonderful things found at the Epicurious site, their recipe database is a winner. The search-tool-banner lets as many people as possible know about that database and demonstrates the power of it at the same time. Very effective advertising.
Fig. 3.38 Instant gratification proves that the people at Epicurious understand the power of the Web.
Honda Motor Cars liked the idea of the interactive drop-box and used it to match up their automotive models with the type of people they thought would be attracted to them. In this instance (see Figure 3.39), the multiple choice question can be answered in three ways. When I see curves ahead I... a) say three Hail Marys, b) add my own sound effect, or c) keep going straight.
Fig. 3.39 Honda wants to know what kind of driver you are.
If you decided to say three Hail Marys, you were whisked off to see the 1977 Prelude (www.honda.com/cars/prelude). "The Prelude is all-new for 1997. With its new look and unparalleled performance, it's the perfect sports coupe for people who love to drive."
If you say three Hail Marys when you see a curve in the road, maybe you should be whisked off to the Understanding Panic Disorder page (www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/upd.htm) instead. I really missed the connection. But not so Steve and Rich at Microscope. They wrote, "So, if you pick the `say 3 Hail Mary's,' you'll be presented with info on the Honda Prelude, a car that will handle those tough curves FOR you." Maybe, guys. Maybe.
However, I change my tune if the selection were to "keep going straight." The next page is for that hot little number you saw cruising around the front page of USA Today, the off-road CR-V (see Figure 3.40). You may quibble about the execution, but the concept is pure genius; let the customer tell you what kind of driver he or she is.
Banners can talk, banners can move, banners can pigeonhole you into a consumer metric; banners can sing, dance, smile, and play tricks on you. But everyone sat up and took notice when Casio put out a banner that makes the sale.
If you can fill out forms in a banner, you should be able to take the order, right? Right. But there's a bit more to it that that. Getting a name and an address is one thing, making a financial commitment is another. The financial part is tough enough that this one was created in conjunction with First Virtual (www.fv.com), a company providing payment systems for Web transactions.
Fig. 3.40 If you go straight when the road turns, you probably need one of these.
You start with the banner itself, which starts out friendly enough. It quietly sits there and bounces the words "wrist power" at you and lets you know that it is "The TV remote you wear" (see Figure 3.41).
Fig. 3.41 This Java applet/banner gets your attention with high contrasting colors and words in motion.
If you sit and watch this banner, it gets impatient and lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are supposed to take action. You are supposed to pass your mouse over the banner to "activate" it (see Figure 3.42).
Fig. 3.42 If you're slow on the uptake, this banner prompts you to take action.
Follow the instructions and the screen changes to announce the offer: buy one, get one free (see Figure 3.43). But that's not the end of the pitch. Casio wants you to know that these are no ordinary watches. Click the Product Info button and you are encouraged to "Point to watches to see features" (see Figure 3.44).
Fig. 3.43 If you respond by positioning your cursor over the watches, the banner makes the offer and gives you three buttons from which to choose.
Fig. 3.44 More interaction is called for, asking you to pass the mouse over the watch of your choice.
Your mouse movements cause the text to change and offer descriptions of the watches. In addition, you are invited to click the text so it will scroll down, revealing more information about the object of your vendible desire.
The Purchase button brings up a screen that asks for your name, address, phone, Virtual PIN number, and includes a Submit button. (see Figure 3.45).
Fig. 3.45 Taking the order is painless and all done without leaving the page on which the ad is displayed.
The About 1VP button is where First Virtual comes in with its 1 Virtual Place program. It handles the transaction from the monetary and security angles and the buyer must sign up with them before the transaction can be completed.
The breakthrough here is that the banner has stopped being a passive image that tries to cajole Web wanderers into clicking. They are not flat display ads that can provide value from a branding perspective, but are mostly trying to derail a surfer's train of thought. Now they are active, interactive, and completely self-contained. There's no reason to whisk somebody away from their focus on Aboriginal studies. They can complete the transaction without getting derailed.
If every banner can take the order, shine the shoes, and wash the windows, will every banner become a shopping center unto itself? Unlikely. It simply means that banner creators have more choices. They have to think a little longer and a little harder about the purpose of a specific banner. Is it for branding? Announcing something new? Making a limited time offer? Proposing a deep discount? Each of these intentions demands a different treatment. It's the same as asking if your print ad should be in the Sunday paper classified section or the back cover of Time. It depends.
But there are some major caveats standing in the way of each banner becoming its own little home shopping channel (shudder).
Using the latest technology as a gimmick to attract attention has several drawbacks. First, it draws people to your site for the wrong reason. Second, the thrill wears off quickly and the interest with it. Third, it ain't new for long. Finally, sometimes it just doesn't work, and that's likely to anger people.
Let's say you sell a 12xspeed, 1MB buffer, 50MS access time, 5000K/second data transfer CD-ROM drive. Okay then, let's say you sell drill presses. Fine.
You go to the trouble and expense of setting up a booth at an international trade show and you want to make sure you have a way to get people into your booth. What do you do? You drag in the popcorn machine! No, wait. Your competitor did that last year and got all the foot traffic. This year, they'll probably do the same. So how do you counter? That's right--the ice cream cart. Wheel in the ice cream cart and people will be lined up to give you their badges to swipe or their business cards to file. A crowded booth! Great!
The only problem is that you end up with a database of people who like ice cream at trade shows. You have no idea if they would ever consider buying a drill press. The same thing happens when you chase after new technology as a way to draw attention to your Web site. The people who are interested in seeing more whiz-bang gizmos will come. But they won't buy drill presses.
If you're trying to figure out a way to use some of the nifty new technology you discovered on the Net last night, you're going after the problem from the wrong side. Yes, you should stay current on the new and the clever, but keep it in the back of your mind. Let it rest there until it's needed. You'll know when the time is right when your value statement, your main product differentiator, and your unique selling proposition suggest the use of a particular tool to illustrate a specific point.
If the positioning is that your product is faster than the rest, it would be ludicrous to use a giant Shockwave file and make people cool their heels while waiting for your message to reach their H7 mind-set. If your product is unique because it has a feature that nobody else has, that can only be deeply understood in motion, then you might get away with it. But if you're using Java banners to sing, dance, and take names, you'll be shooting yourself in the foot.
The neat, new way to stream video or include audio in your banner will attract the curious--once. Some people may go back to the end of the line to get a second helping of ice cream, but once they've seen how your animation works and what happens when it reaches the end, there's no reason to go back. They might tell their friends. Their friends might come take a look. Their friends might be prospective customers. That's more than a stretch.
Given the rate of change on the Web (dog years have been given up, now it's being counted in flea years), new technology gets cold very fast. It's the been-there-done-that syndrome. Besides, have you heard about the next new thing?
And once the next new thing hits the Web, the spotlight swings and the attention swings with it. But back on your banner, the same old, tired, once-hip technology is starting to look a little tattered around the edges. Dated, faded, and eventually hated.
Doesn't matter what the new techno-trick ad is for, when it hits the Web, it gets noticed if it has the very, very, very latest software driving it. But you sweated bullets for three weeks to create your new ad and built it using last week's techno-toy. Oops, sorry. You missed the window. The moving spotlight lights, and having lit, moves on.
What if you were the only one on the planet with a fax machine? Either you're writing faxes nobody will see, or you have a long distance bill that's out of this world.
Not everybody has the latest browser version. Not everybody has downloaded Shockwave. Most people have no idea if their browser is Java-ready. And that's just the icing on the cake. There is another reason low-tech might be the high road: the new stuff might break.
I admit that I am not a normal Web surfer. I actively seek out the new and the different because my clients expect it of me. And yes, I also admit that I'm a nerd at heart and just can't wait to see what's going to happen next! As a result, I have learned to be careful.
Writing this book, I am always online to check facts, find examples, and be there when that life-changing e-mail hits my screen. I usually run Microsoft Word and Excel, Netscape, Eudora, and, when creating presentations, PowerPoint. When I'm about to embark upon a research foray into the wilds of the Web (which I do about every ten or fifteen minutes), I make sure I have saved everything in all my open applications. I call it insurance.
It doesn't take much for Netscape to lock up my system. Other applications are kind enough to simply hang and I can force them off my screen, but Netscape likes to take everybody with it when it goes. CTRL+S has become a nervous reaction. If somebody makes a sharp turn in front of me on the road, my thumb and index finger tap out the Save command on the steering wheel. Am I compulsive? Am I obsessed? Is anal-retentive hyphenated?
No, I've just been burned by too many beta versions of this and odd combinations of that. When you've worked for an hour without saving your files and the whole system quits on you, you rely on involuntary file saves.
So when your ad is the cause of me losing work I've already done, I'm more than annoyed. As it is, you only cause me to re-boot and restart all the applications I was running. You think this makes you look good? You think this helps build your brand? Think again.
The fact is, you can't know what applications are all running at the same time on somebody's computer. You can't know how many browser screens they have open and how many Java applets are loading and how many videos are streaming and how many gifs are animating.
If you want to have a place on your site where you show off your technical leadership in making the Web dance to your tune, I applaud you. As long as it is well marked. I will go to the Nokia Multimedia Gallery (www.nokia.com/gallery) to see the really cool Shockwave animation Nokia has for their 9000 Communicator, but only after I have saved everything else first.
But what if I am not a nerd at heart? What if I don't want to see this fancy stuff? Then I need only rely on some help from the nearest twelve-year-old who can implement the software I need to never see another Web ad again. Scary, huh?
Axel Boldt describes himself as, well, nothing in particular. "I was a graduate student of Mathematics at the University of California in Santa Barbara until June 16. Right now, I'm nothing in particular." But Boldt (www.math.ucsb.edu/~boldt) made an impression on the Web on December 11, 1994, by creating the Blacklist of Internet Advertisers. It was an effort to "to curb inappropriate advertising on Usenet newsgroups and via junk e-mail," and the first entry is the historically-appropriate team of Canter and Siegel, the green card lottery spammers.
While Boldt's suggestions on what you can and should do to people who spam you boarder on the larcenous, his philosophy is right on the mark: "Advertising which I'm forced to read is bad, advertising which I actively have to seek is tolerable." Keep in mind that this is in reference to newsgroups and lists. He hadn't attacked the Web. Yet.
Not content to leave the Web out of the picture, Boldt went back to the drawing board and created WebFilter (www.math.ucsb.edu/~boldt/NoShit/index.html) (see Figure 3.46). This is a nifty little program that lets you filter out those bits of the Web you don't want to see. It even has a script library for predefined sites. If you don't want to see ads on Yahoo!, Lycos, Hotwired, CNN, Netscape, InfoSeek, Deja News, Nando Times, Playboy, Excite, WebCrawler, Galaxy, or Pathfinder, WebFilter is the answer. If you don't want to see ads on other sites, you can create your own filters.
Fig. 3.46 WebFilter allows you to block ads that appear on specific pages.
Another one on the horizon is JunkBuster (www.junkbuster.com). Do these filters and blockers represent a threat to the value of the Internet as an advertising medium? Significantly less than the VCR spelled the death of television ads.
Some very small percentage of people go out of their way to avoid advertising. The rest of us want to be sure we stay abreast and stay in tune with our peers. All editorial and no commercials make Jack a dull boy.
With all of these choices for your banner, what is the most effective approach? Don't answer yet, because Monty Hall has more surprises for you behind door number two. Banners are not the end of the story. They're just the most popular story to date. There are numerous other ways to advertise on the Internet. It takes a whole 'nother chapter... l