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In-your-face Web ad formats popping up all over

The Online Publishers Assn. launches supersize ads in an attempt to reach surfers who ignore banners.

March 11, 2009|Dan Fost

They're bigger, they're bolder, and soon they'll be covering up large swaths of some of your favorite Web pages.

The Online Publishers Assn. on Tuesday released several new in-your-face advertising formats designed to be both more obtrusive and interactive.

Twenty-seven top Internet publishers -- including the New York Times, CNN, CBS Interactive, ESPN and the Wall Street Journal -- say they'll try the supersize ads in an attempt to get the attention of Web surfers who have learned to ignore banners.

The websites, which collectively reach two-thirds of the U.S. Internet audience, must walk a fine line so they don't bug visitors so much that they stop returning.

"Studies show we ignore banner ads," said Jose Castillo, a new media consultant in Johnson City, Tenn. "Making them bigger and more intrusive won't work. We will tune those out as well."

The new formats represent an effort to boost an ad market that has grown dramatically in recent years but is suffering in the slumping economy.

Research firm EMarketer Inc. predicts that the Internet is the only advertising segment that will grow in 2009. But most of that growth will be in Web search, while spending on so-called display ads is expected to fall.

EMarketer said in November that U.S. online ad spending would reach $23.6 billion in 2008 and $25.7 billion this year, but senior analyst David Hallerman said those figures would be revised downward soon.

To some extent, the inherent nature of advertising is to annoy people enough so that they pay attention. "Advertising rarely doesn't irritate," Hallerman said.

But what Google Inc. and other search firms discovered is that people don't mind ads as much when the marketing message is related to what they're already doing online, such as searching for something.

J.D. Lasica, president of Socialmedia.biz, a consulting company in Pleasanton, Calif., said publishers needed to be innovative in more than just the size and shape of the ads.

"All of these news publications are in a tough spot because the print publications are dwindling away. So they have to figure out how to make money in the new medium," he said. "I don't think the answer is in-your-face ads."

The publishers say they think the new formats will provide a canvas on which advertisers can be more creative. And they certainly don't intend to turn off Web surfers.

"The visitor says whether they want to see the whole ad," said Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Assn. "If the consumer wants to engage, it will open to double the page. Everything will be user-initiated."

The three new types of ads are the "fixed panel," which looks like part of the page but scrolls up and down as a user does; the "XXL box," in which users can turn pages within the ad; and the "pushdown," which opens to display a larger ad.

The formats could pump some life into the market, publishers and advertisers said.

"A large-scale intrusive format is absolutely necessary in today's market," said Adam Kleinberg, chief executive of Traction, a San Francisco ad agency. "With the economy and the move to digital, the marketers are demanding a return on investment in every campaign."

Some Time Inc. sites, including People.com and CNNMoney.com, have already experimented with the ads and found them to be successful, said Fran Hauser, president of digital operations for the company's style and entertainment group. People can respond to a poll, watch a video or play a game right inside some of the ads.

The participating publishers agreed to offer at least one of the formats by July 1. The Los Angeles Times isn't a part of the group. But it, too, is experimenting with ads that grab attention by, for example, taking over parts of the computer screen and allowing visitors to watch movie trailers or look up showtimes inside the ad.

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dan.fost@danfost.com

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