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Two Advertisers Sign On for AOL's Window Shopper: A Closer Look at Ad Display's Fight for ROI Relevance

Two advertisers have signed on to use AOL/Pictela's recently announced Window Shopper application, Brian Atwood, senior director sales & strategy, at AOL Premium Formats tells MarketingVOX.

Window Shopper, briefly, is a new feature that delivers a retailer's ecommerce back end into the ad itself. That is, someone viewing an ad will find it quickly turn into a catalog from which the consumers can make a purchase. The technology is basically an overlay, Atwood explains. "There is no popping up of a new tab or any kind of disruption. The consumer is transacting on the advertiser’s site through the ad."

Atwood declined to name the advertisers or their start dates.

Window Shopper, if it becomes widely adopted, will eventually provider advertisers with a much-sought definitive ROI for display ads. What could be a better metric for performance, after all, than actual sales transacted via the ad.

AOL has been picking at this sore spot since its launch last year of its premium format, the Pictela Portrait ad unit. Recognized by the IAB as a format to watch, the ad unit provides high definition content including video, photos and applications that can be updated and delivered in real time. Results from a study released this summer found that after users viewed an IAB Portrait ad, purchase intent grew 263%.

New Formats That Better Connect to ROI

AOL's initiatives in this area are just one permutation of a larger trend in the online ad display space: that is, a more aggressive push to deliver some form of ROI for its users. This is done via more interactivity, more use of rich media - online video is one of the display categories’ fastest growing formats - and by giving greater control to users over what ads they want to see.

This is one of the drivers, no doubt, behind Google's use of the +1 in its ads, which it just launched.  It allows people to recommend an ad’s landing page to friends and contacts. "A display ad becomes much more powerful when people can see which of their friends and contacts have chosen to endorse it," Dan Friedman at Inside AdWords Team wrote in the blog post announcing its roll out.

Certainly, there is reason to connect the social graph to display ad ROI–one only has to look to Facebook to understand that, Gurbaksh Chahal, CEO of RadiumOne told Ad Exchanger One of the reasons why Facebook has surpassed Yahoo in display ad spending is its social ad-unit that enabled "liking" pages and things, he says.

That "was the tipping point because it created differentiation and disruption in the display world. Display adverting was no longer created equal."

The marriage of both audience buying and the power of a social graph is the way of the future, Chahal continued. "By incorporating social elements into an existing display strategy, drives engagement and almost guarantees a positive result. That's where I agree with Google that display advertising does have the opportunity to become a $200 billion industry. Impressions without any social call-to-action aka "regular" impressions have to work a lot harder then socially enabled impressions. The days for display ads without any social element are numbered."

Along similar lines, consumers that are given a choice about which ad will be displayed, also tend to reward advertisers–or at least better remember the ad. According to a study, by PreferenceCentral, Internet users are more likely to prefer targeted online ads when they are asked to make real-world, value-for-value trade-offs, such as free access to Internet content.

Earlier this year RadiumOne rolled out its own version of a "like" button aimed specifically at display advertising. Called the "R1 Like Button," it lets consumers like or share ads through Facebook, Twitter, email or other social media channels.

AdKeeper offers an online ad service that lets users save ads they come across - or are shown - online into a personal 'keeper' in order to view later. Then they can sort through, share, even rank and review - and of course, buy from - at their leisure.

Ad Selector is an online vide ad placement tool that allows users to select an advertisers' video spot to view prior to content [video].

The Growth of Performance-based Models

+1, of course, only gets at the issue of ROI and greater relevance indirectly. Google, as well as other providers are, much like AOL, also addressing this issue head on with their promotion of performance-based ad models.  "Advertisers are interested in driving that engaged viewership and they are interested in paying only for engaged viewership," Phil Farhi, senior product manager for Google's YouTube video site, told Investors’ Business Daily.

In December 2010, YouTube launched its TrueView ad format, which lets users skip ads they don't want to see - and only charges advertisers when the viewer has actually watched the ad. The product comes with a countdown button lets users skip the ad after it plays for five seconds - TrueView Video Ads - InStream. Later, in some cases, advertisers can offer viewers a choice of three pre-roll options to watch.

Google says early results suggest view-through rates of 20-70%.

SoJones, an online fashion magazine tested Google's per-action ad program, according to another article in Investor's Business Daily. The site makes four to five times more revenue with CPA compared with CPC, reports Jenise Henrikson, chief executive of Henrikson Media, in the article. "This is due to our quality traffic and high level of engagement with our users."

Two-Third of Display Ads are Now Performance-based

Industry statistics suggest that only two-thirds of display ads can be classified as performance-based. However, as more companies through their weight behind these models, that ratio is expected to shift even more.

In October BrightRoll offered an audience guarantee to advertisers for ads that they run on the BrightRoll network. Under the program, called TAG, for Total Audience Guarantee, digital video advertisers only have to pay for the impressions that reach their target audiences. The program informs advertisers how many impressions will reach target audiences before the campaign begins. It then rolls out at scale. comScore's AdEffx Campaign Essentials serves as the verification provider.

Another example is SpotXchange, which specializes in placing performance-based video ads.

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