A quick question: when you read an online article, how often do you click on the banner ads or ads in the sidebars?

I'd guess not very often. The click-through-rate for banner ads is 0.2%. So which ads are people responding to online? And why?

In-Stream is More In Tune With Customers
In all the discussions over 'old-fashioned' marketing tools vs social media marketing, the integrated advertisement trend doesn't get mentioned much. By integrated ads, I mean the ones that only pop up when you hover over a link within the online article text you are reading. For example, if the words 'social media marketing' (above) were highlighted, an ad for an agency's services could pop up. This type of marketing is clever for two reasons.

As Mark Suster points out in his blog, Both Sides of the Table, most online advertising results go unmeasured. But with integrated ads, advertisers can measure how many people hover over their in-stream links. Vibrant Media, an American agency, reports a better CTR for integrated ads over banners of up to 50%. The fact these ads are in-stream (where readers look) is important.

Because whereas banner ads sit above or around the area where readers are actually looking, in-stream ads are placed where the attention already is. They are not fighting with more interesting material. They are placed within text or images that potential customers are already interested in (after all, they are reading/looking at it). And here's where the link to print inserts comes in.

Wait, What's That?
Drayton Bird says that magazine and newspaper inserts get higher response rates than ads for the same product within the publication itself. Why? Because they fall out and grab a reader's attention. Because they are slotted into a publication that the reader already has interest in. Yet they do not interrupt the flow of reading - they are not an irritating advertisement page cutting up the article.

So, to sum up, integrated online advertising and marketing are successful for the same reasons that good 'traditional' advertising is successful:
  1. Placement - targeted at users who already have potential interest in the product/service
  2. Measurable - the choice to view the ad lies with the target. Therefore different goals can be measured: hovers, website visits, coupon returns, purchases
  3. Information element - location and structure makes the target feel less 'sold'. Integrated ads make use of the value of informative content.

What do you think of integrated ads? How do you find the actual ads that pop up when you hover? Have you bought anything via integrated, or in-stream, ad leads?

It's one thing to entice a customer with a great offer the first time. And another thing to keep them buying your services. This is where branding comes in. When I ask if it's ok to let the message (buy from us) sink in the medium (video, banner ad, TV ad, etc.), I mean 'are there some customers whose loyalty feeds on the media advertisers give them?' Doesn't branding work best when customers don't feel they are viewing advertisements, but entertainment?

Hooking the customer with entertainment
Take Immersive Media.

They are 'the leading world provider of 360˚, full motion, interactive videos'. As you'd expect, most of their clients are in travel, sport, and TV or music video production. Because the Immersive Media service is ideal for young and/or tech-savvy customers looking for 'experiences'. In a flat-screen world, '360˚, full motion, interactive' appears more attuned to customer desires for information and sensation. But is it?

Sensation vs information
My decision to go to a bar is probably based on its proximity to my workplace or home, the prices charged, and whether my friends will go too. My decision whether to go to a surf location will be based on how much it costs to get there, how long it takes to get there, how much it costs to stay there, and who else goes.  None of these is answered by a 360˚, full motion, interactive video. Except, perhaps, the last.

For certain customers, fitting in with a look or style is an important message. Immersive Media is playing on the medium being that message. It helps brands like MTV and Red Bull to establish their brand images via entertainment. Drive a taxi through NYC, be at a New Guinean tribal ceremony, or walk onto the field at an NFL game - with all the chaos and excitement these experiences hold. Plus your ability to control the view with your mouse. You're hooked, right?

The only problem is that entertainment value does not last long. And while a night-surfing video may go viral, 5 million views doesn't necessarily mean 5 million people will remember who sponsored the event. Unless they are already fans of the sponsor.

When the customer is happy to be caught
Branding is not just about giving a company or product a particular image. It's about reinforcing the customer's self image.

Take a college cyclist, if she fancies herself as a street devil during the week and a trail biking-fiend on the weekends, she's going to go for a brand that looks tough and is recognized by her fellow serious biking fans. A brand that suits the idea of herself that she tries to live up to.

This isn't about someone making that last decision to pay up.

But it is directly connected to people's emotions, and their tendency to prefer Brand X over Brand Y for the simple reason that they feel Brand X makes them look good. Getting lost in the medium is part of that emotional connection.

This speech by Rory Sutherland at TED 2009 is 16 minutes of gold for anyone who needs to sell. Actually, the last 3 minutes are worth more than a marketing course. Why?

Because the man from Ogilvy & Mather explains in clear terms the value of perception. All you need to do to sell something is to help people to see it in a new light: your light.
Great poetry hits people at their core because it makes the everyday - emotions, objects, people - interesting again. When you read it, you feel like you are seeing the alternative in an optical illusion, and it feels good.

Similarly, successful brand marketing shows people potential. Not just the everyday 'thing' in front of their noses. It works because how we perceive a product is more influential than what the product is.

In fact, reality doesn't have to enter into the equation. Expensive wine implies social status and knowledge. Shreddies can be squares or diamonds. Garden design can mean your property earns you an extra 10%. These aren't necessarily real benefits. They hint at better things and broader horizons.

And, therefore, people want them to be real.

In a world full of stuff, it's the marketers who can ferret out the potential of a product who sell well. This is selling the idea rather than the object. It's what gives a brand its character. It makes buying less boring, and perhaps that is the key.