Russia is a country that possesses a great and largely untapped talent for innovation in Internet technologies. This article will focus on one of the strongest trends in today’s Russian Internet arena — online advertising.
The Advertisers’ Challenge
As numerous statistical studies of Russia’s segment of the Web market illustrate, the impact of online advertising is continually in decline. That forces most of the practicing Internet agencies to search for new ways to influence their target audience.
Announcing a real technological innovation seems difficult for today’s developers, as the standardization of technology is combined with a variety of snags and unpredictable obstacles, such as choosing and researching available software, etc. For the Web development organization, making an invention a widespread standard also requires that they overcome some serious problems related to browser manufacturer’s loyalty, market demand, and so on. Therefore, it’s much easier to take any existing and widely-accepted technology as a starting point, add a couple of finishing features, and proclaim it to be a brand new technology.
That’s really what two Russian Internet companies did. Both are specialized in interactive solutions development for online advertising: AdVerso Company, and IMHO Video International Advertising Group. The first promotes a technology called AdVerso, while the second presents a technological solution series under the ScreenGlide trademark.
The first new advertising technology we’ll look at is AdVerso. The main feature of Adverso is an opportunity to present online ads over a Website’s basic contents.
A visitor to a Website that uses AdVerso might see any of the following (see samples at the examples page on their site):
- Short introduction splashes (“Teasers”)
The ad is demonstrated over the Website’s contents.
- Interactive application launching (Macromedia Flash-based)
Some user manipulations can be achieved without closing the main browser window (mail list subscriptions, service or product orders, etc.)
- Ad closing/minimization (“Reminder”)
Pressing a “Close” button that appears within the active ad area, causes either an interactive application window to close, or minimization of the ad to the corner of the browser window.
AdVerso explains the advantages of its technology as follows:
- The basic Website contents load first. After a page has completely loaded, the interactive animated banner (or application) starts. Moreover, the advertisement loading process is not perceptible to the user as they move around the Website.
- If the user is not interested in the ad, they can close it immediately.
- Adverso automatically checks the user’s computer configuration, so that it can provide the version of an ad application that’s appropriate to that particular system (including browser settings, operating system, plugins installed, etc.).
- The advertiser has total control of the advertisement window’s activity, and can activate an automatic switch to “waiting mode” until the window is made active by the user.
- Adverso offers all possible program-based ad combinations, incorporating the “Teaser”, “Reminder”, and interactive application functionality, as well as the option for advertisers to use separate modules independently.
- Adverso provides great interactive facilities. Users can fill in questionnaires, purchase products, subscribe to discussion lists, make search queries and more, without leaving the Website that shows the AdVerso-based advertisements.
So, what about the competing technology, ScreenGlide? The ScreenGlide technology provides an ad publisher with great opportunities to show wide-format multimedia advertisements possessing considerable interactivity capabilities.
ScreenGlide, like AdVerso, is also based on Macromedia Flash technology, and is divided into the following modules (you can sample the ad formats at the ScreenGlide Advertising Gallery):
When they move their cursor over a ScreenGlide-based ad banner, the user is presented with an ad window that displays the advertiser’s interactive presentation.
The advertisement is loaded in a blank window over the publishers’ Website.
A full screen ad is opened over the Website’s contents.
A new window opens, providing high quality graphics and streaming audio. The advertisement doesn’t start loading until the basic Website’s contents are fully loaded. As an additional feature, the ad presentation can be programmed to start after the user clicks to move to another page.
A number of advertisement blocks are displayed to the user, moving as specified by the advertiser over the Website’s content.
These are purported to be the most attractive features of these technologies. But perhaps we should forget the marketing hype. Let’s look at each of these solutions from a different perspective: through each product’s developers’, and its users’ eyes.
Through Developers’ Eyes
Not surprisingly, the developers of both the advertising technologies discussed above describe their solutions as “revolutionary online marketing tools” for Web advertising. The AdVerso developers contend that “AdVerso is a unique technology for the Russian part of World Wide Web, which provides unlimited creative possibilities, and allows advertisers to create efficient ads that a user can’t pass by.” Unfortunately, possible user reactions to such ads are not properly analyzed by the company.
The developers of the ScreenGlide technology took some steps towards user experience research, and tried to predict a reaction to the advertisements produced through their ScreenGlide solutions series. In their opinion, the BackScreen ad solution caused the least irritating effect, and great dissatisfaction occurred while users watched FullScreen ads. FlyingScreen is likely able to irritate users, too.
Of course, precise user experience predictions are impossible — you’ll never guess what might be on users’ minds after they come into contact with rich-media advertisements like these. However, this company’s understanding and admission of a possible negative user reaction deserves praise. It looks as if the developer warns a potential advertiser of varied user feedback: it could be good, but this is not really guaranteed.
Through Users’ Eyes
Now, we understand these technologies, and we know that the developers of both AdVerso and ScreenGlide praise the "benefits" these solutions provide. But what do the Web users, who are daily confronted by these two technologies, have to say?
In fact, in practice, the integration of the technologies mentioned within the Russian Internet infrastructure is frequently different from the original concept. The main reason for this is that users surfing through the Web are irritated by these large, intrusive ads. Some of the most irritating factors include:
- Speed of loading
It’s very important for today’s Web users that Websites load quickly. The AdVerso and ScreenGlide technologies are developed so that several application modules built into the advertisement are preloaded while the page opens. These include various client-side analyzers (such as AdVerso’s ClientLookup module, which checks for browser settings, that the necessary plugins are installed, etc.), statistics counting utilities (such as AdVerso’s StatAnalyzer module) and more. All that processing could have a significant, negative impact on the loading speed of the ads and the host site itself.
- Unwanted diversion
Most Web users are task-oriented. They visit Websites seeking certain data or services; they want to read and compose email messages, chat with pals, take part in Webconferences and forums, download freeware, scrutinize news headlines, etc. How astonished and indignant the user would be to instead be faced by a large presentation that diverted his attention from the task… just to heed advertising slogans!
- Intrusive solicitation
Nowadays most interactive ads are being created so that a “Close” button (or just a MS Windows-like cross icon) is completely invisible against the background of the ad itself. As a result, the user finds it near impossible to close the ad. Obviously, the advertiser intends to hold the user’s attention as long as possible, but this motive sometimes makes a user nervous and frustrated as they try hard â€“ but in vain — to close the tiresome windows.
The development of these brand new technologies is a propitious indication of improvement in the competitive Web advertising industry. However, the creation of new advertising solutions like AdVerso and ScreenGlide should not fail to ignore the needs and preferences of those people for whom the innovations are really being made â€“ the Web users.
Alexei is a Russian specialist who's worked in the information technology industry for over 7 years. He's written over 100 articles on usability, online advertising and ecommerce, and 2 books.