By: Karim Mostafa

Industry Watches CNET Initiative

When CNET introduced a new online ad unit last week, New York
Times Digital wasted no time in endorsing the new format. The
larger and more-interactive ads are being developed at a time
when newspaper Web sites are scrambling to attract advertisers
and find alternatives to the banner.

“We had been hearing for quite some time that people weren’t
looking at banner advertising,” said Jessie McAnulty, associate
vice president of creative at CNET Networks, based in San
Francisco. McAnulty’s creative team set out last June to find a
way to answer a nagging question: how can we get eyeballs on our

CNET came up with a 360×300 pixel advertisement that appears
prominently in the center of the news page, yet loads quickly.
The ad is large enough to display individual items for sale and
text, just as print retail ads do. The Flash-enabled ads load
using iFrames for Internet Explorer browsers and customized code
for Netscape 6.0.

Most importantly, the format allows for interactivity within the
advertisement without taking the user from the original content
page that attracted them (this feature will not work in older
versions of Netscape). Clicking on tabs at the top of the unit
allows users to easily bring up new “pages” of the ad – all
the while keeping the current news story on the page. Genevieve
Cowger, public relations manager at CNET Networks, said the new
ad unit is more efficient and personalized since users control
the interaction.

McAnulty characterized banner ads as “hijacking” users to other
sites – which some analysts believe has led to the anemic
rate of clickthroughs. Another problem was that advertising
agencies treated banner ads like direct mail advertising or
coupons, so not much creative energy was dedicated to the space,
McAnulty said. CNET still runs banner ads on its home page, but
is not running them on news pages featuring the new ad format.

New York Times Digital said it already has advertisers lined up
for the new ad format, which will be added to a redesigned “Our profitability goal mandates that we seek every
new revenue opportunity,” CEO Martin Nisenholtz said in a
statement praising CNET’s move. “In order to make online
marketing viable, advertisers need more effective positions. We
all need to leverage the interactive nature of the Web better.”

Christine Cook, vice president/international at New York Times
Digital, said online advertising has steadily evolved toward
larger ads. She pointed to the increased use of “skyscrapers”
– ads which run the length of a Web page on the right-hand
side. In the fourth quarter 2000, retail advertisers such as
Lancome were buying up the skyscraper positions on,
said Lisa Carparelli, a spokesperson for the Web site.

The new CNET ad could be just the beginning of a new era of
online ad experimentation. The company is expected to introduce
two more new ad formats next week. And the Internet Advertising
Bureau, an industry association, is considering the adoption of
standards for larger ads.

Tim Lambert, vice president of sales at in San
Jose, Calif., said the company is exploring its own new ad sizes
and placement. He said advertisers have responded favorably to
the new ads, which will appear on one Knight Ridder site soon.

“I expect the adoption [of the new format] will come fast,” said
Dave Morgan, co-chairman of New York-based Real Media, an online
advertising company that provides ad-serving software to many
newspapers. “It’s a great unit, for content sites in particular.”

CNET’s McAnulty sees opportunities for great development in the
new ad space. CNET’s creative group is recommending animation
using several visual metaphors, including tabbing, filing, and
user-interface. More information can be provided through buttons,
links, and tabs. Advertisers can also imbed video, use streaming
media, and include dynamic data.

“We need to have better quality ads for advertisers,” said
Lambert at The Real Cities network is looking
to digitize print ads for placement in an e-commerce marketplace.
But the key, Lambert said, is the interactivity.

“If we’re going to get advertising to work in this medium, we
have to develop a format that allows a useful and perhaps
compelling message to be conveyed in a context where it will
connect with the user,” said Steve Yelvington, who recently
became manager of Web site development at Morris Communications
Corp. in Augusta, Ga. Yelvington and others expect the current
standards for online advertising to go the way of the dodo. The
current standards “are accidents of history, not the results of
careful product engineering.”

Karim Mostafa ( is associate editor for E&P Online.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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