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Banner ads want you to lend them your ears

November 2, 1998
Web posted at: 12:00 PM EDT

by Glenn McDonald

(IDG) -- Popular portal sites Yahoo and Infoseek this week approved the use of audio banner ads after a series of test runs. The ActiveBanner ads, developed by advertising company ADNet, deliver a 15-to-30 second RealAudio clip whenever the banner is clicked. After the clip has played the user is shuttled to the origin page for that specific ad.

ADNet President Michael Henderson said the new audio-enabled ads have doubled or tripled previous click-through rates for clients using ActiveBanner ads, according to ADNet research.

"We're trying to create a blend of audio and video elements to induce the viewer to do something more proactively," Henderson said. "And for advertisers, companies who already have audio clips in the can from other media campaigns can now use them through banner ads."

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Falling click-through rates have become a growing concern recently to advertisers and Web sites alike as the novelty of flashier Java-based animated ads wears off. ADNet's ActiveBanners provide a new twist-audio -- but how much can you really jazz up a 5-by-1-inch banner ad?

Keep it simple

"Rich media is now important for the Internet, be it Java animation or audio," Henderson said. "The time is right and the systems are in place to present rich media."

Not everyone agrees. Industry analyst Barry Parr of International Data Corporation said that it will still be a while before rich media ads will catch on.

"In general, a lot of the predicted adoption of fancier, so-called rich media ads just hasn't happened," said Parr. "There are still bandwidth constraints, and some browsers can't handle the Java animations."

Sites that limit banner ads in terms of file size tend to be the most effective, Parr said. Until true broadband access is widely adopted, companies are going to need to find different ways to advertise online.

"We're looking at a penetration for broadband that's not that high -- even in 4 or 5 years, people are going to be online at whatever fraction of 56K they've got." Parr said.

And there are other options to the banner ad. "Forbes seems to be making money through sponsorship instead of banner ads -- they seem to be having success by thinking outside the box, literally in this case," Parr said. "The other whole area is making deals with the big portals where you buy exclusivity on certain amounts of pages. But it's very expensive."

As for so-called "interstitial ads," those that pop up over your screen in a second browser window, Parr is less optimistic.

"I don't think that's a winning strategy long term -- they're just far too irritating."

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