Friday, June 24, 2011

Start-Up Watch COD: Image Space Media Turns Images on Pages Into Contextual Ad Environments

Are photos the final frontier of advertising? We’ve added sponsored messages to about every element of a page. From in-text to advertorial to banners here, there and everywhere. And of course pre-roll. Any way you slice it, there have been precious few areas of the page that have not been called into service for advertisers. And yet photos are the things most of us notice first.

It’s no accident that Huff Post’s pages, for example, are so photo heavy. Our brains process images much faster than words, so photos and pictures have always been a big draw in media – especially online media.

So it’s only natural that people have been madly at work trying to put the incredible contextual and visual real-estate value of editorial photos to use for marketer objectives. The CHALLENGE has been how to balance the intrusiveness with consumer experience – how to make an ad noticeable AND welcome. Or at least not despised.

A company called Image Space Media (ISM) believes it has the answer. Specifically, ISM has developed a set of ad products geared specifically to complement editorial images and add incremental impressions/ yield to web pages.

I’ll admit I was kind of skeptical about all of this. Well let’s call a spade a spade. I thought this would be profoundly icky. I imagined X-10 ads blinking over every image on a page, and sneaky deaky close buttons that are there on the unit but yet somehow impossible to spot. Boy was I pleasantly surprised to see that ISM appears to be just as concerned about user experience as, well, users. Their striking yet polite offering delivers on three “necessaries” to make this work:

1.Viewer activation of the units
2.Incremental revenue and yield per page
3.Contextual relevancy to an advanced targeting engine
They offer three kinds of units for three different situations:

Overlay Banners: These ads appear ONLY when the consumer rolls over an ad, and are targeted to offer contextual relevancy to the content of the image itself. They achieve this both through comprehensive analysis of the metadata for the photo and visually analyzing the image pixels themselves. And because three of you just saw a red flag in your mind’s eye, I’ll take this moment right now to assure you that they have a process for ensuring that the content in the photo is not objectionable, as well as a post audit in which the Mechanical Turk community is used to check every photographic instance.

Image Gallery Units: As the number of slide shows and photo galleries has increased online, millions of people are viewing images in a viewing session. This offering places overlay messages on alternating images in a gallery. Additionally ISM offers image sharing for users, clicking on the share button delivers a larger version of the photo, surrounded by a 728 and a 300x250.

“Photostitials”: These ads appear and time out in front of editorial images as part of a user’s viewing session. You pay for these on CPM. For those units that appear only upon rollover or click, you pay only once per viewer, even if that person rolls over a picture and triggers the ad again and again. The consumer experience is actually rather nice – a lot better than you’d imagine just by having this described to you. Further, the company takes pains to ensure that it provides publishers with best practices on appropriate limits to ad counts on a page or seen in a session. After all, no one wants a pissed off user.

The gimme here is contextual targeting. Like showing a McCormick ad on a recipe photo or an ad for a trip to Hawaii in front of blizzard pictures. But ISM also offers a full range of audience targeting methodologies like demographics, behavioral, and geographics. I did NOT think I was going to like this, but they won me over with their targeting capabilities and consumer friendly user experience.

If you are a pub looking for new ways to drive the shekels from your content, or a brand looking for a high impact way of getting noticed, check out their stuff.

Thanks to ad:tech for publishing this first!

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