My roots lie in online marketing and advertising. I’ve produced banner ads and email campaigns of every stripe. Expanding ads, HTML ads, ads with video, ads with links to 17 downloadable assets (white papers, case studies etc.), info capture ads, Flash, animated GIFs… You name it, I’ve produced it. Many look askance at the online banner ad, but I argue it’s because folks haven’t imagined how to use them in a creative and interesting fashion. This is why the WalMart ad to the left did my old advertising-producer-heart so good.
This type of ad is not new per se. Expanding deal ads have been around for years (CVS used to use them pretty well) but it’s nice to see a retailer of WalMart’s size and reach using these types of ads and paying for placement on the front page of boston.com. I don’t know the efficacy of these ads — that’s between the advertiser, their media shop and the publishers — but I’d have to say that there must be some positive results, or at least a curiosity about the results that spurred this buy. All throughout 2009 I kept reading about how the online ad is dead, but given the prevalence of ads for major companies on major sites I’d have to question that.
In my experience, the big advertisers don’t continue to spend on ads that don’t generate, if not revenue, then some sort of desired metric such as interactions, acquisitions etc. Perhaps the OLA-Cassandras should look at how ads are used. I agree, the sub-30 second animated ad with “learn more” call to action are not useful. Ads that provide a platform to users to gain valuable information on some topic of import are the way to go. We used to deliver expanding ads to IT decision makers on niche sites where they congregated seeking information. We loaded our ads with white papers, case studies and data sheets, and gave them away for free, and we never expected them to visit our site. They did, frequently (we could track it) and our client spent ever more each year on this type of campaign across various lines of business — it was good for them and it as good for us.
As far as I’m concerned, the types of ads that we produced, and the type of ad represented by this WalMart ad are very much in keeping with the ethos of the web 2.0 world: share your knowledge, give it away and develop a relationship. Treat the online ad as an outpost to your main site — one more touch point from which to reach your desired target and provide value to them. With effective (media) planing, (creative & strategic) forethought, and a willingness to test and learn, online advertising should, and still can be an effective tool. Long live online advertising.