With click-through rates plummeting, the Internet banner ad is in trouble.
So to get consumers' attention, automakers are trying flashier ads that are far more obtrusive.
General Motors, for example, has hired Ad4ever Inc., a developer of interactive advertising technology in New York, to create and deliver multimedia ads online. GM began testing the ads last month and will analyze the results by the first week of March.
'GM needs to find new ways to boost its online share of users,' said Jody Sautter, manager of media integration and affinity alliances for e-GM, General Motors' electronic-commerce unit. 'Click-through rates have dropped from about 1 percent at the beginning of last year to just 0.3 percent.' Click-through occurs when a user clicks on a banner ad and goes to a new Web site.
How Ad4ever's technology, called TopLayer, works:
You visit a Web site where GM is advertising, such as ClubMom.com. All of a sudden, animation of a Chevrolet Malibu moves across to the middle of your computer screen, touting some basic features for five to seven seconds. You can't click on that teaser.
In the meantime, a traditional banner ad fills the top of your screen: If you want more information on the Malibu, click here.
Once you click, another ad moves to the center of your screen. You can click on it for the additional information without leaving the site you initially visited.
The experience takes two to three minutes. It requires the Internet Explorer browser and at least the 4.0 version of Flash software.
'The response has been more than 10 times higher click-through rates, compared with banners and other rich media,' Sautter said. She declined to give specific numbers.
Site may annoy
But with the technology, GM is intruding on consumers, said Sean Rice, president of the Hudson River Group, a marketing analysis firm in Valhalla, N.Y.
'The first step in that process is annoying,' he said. 'The difference (from traditional banners) is now you're using consumer space. Consumers are willing to give up the top inch across their screen, but this is like a porn site taking over your computer - and porn sites don't care if they annoy you because they want to titillate you. You're not going to communicate the benefits of owning a Malibu by annoying people.'
GM is running the pilot for the Chevrolet Tahoe and Malibu and for the Pontiac Aztek on a limited basis on sites that include AutoWeb.com and CarandDriver.com.
Chevrolet's ad agency, Campbell-Ewald Advertising in Warren, Mich., handled that brand's work through Ad4ever, and Digitas Worldwide in Boston handled Pontiac's.
Sautter said she expects to add Web sites and other GM brands in a second phase of the pilot, once results of the first pilot have been analyzed.
GM pays about twice as much to use TopLayer as it does to use traditional banner ads, she said, because of the time required to create the ads.
The company also is getting better information with the new technology, she said. 'With traditional banner ads, we get impressions and click-throughs,' Sautter said. 'With these, we get a detailed report of what parts of the `movie' were interacted with most by the user - for example, the color selector. It helps us to revive our creative.' Impressions are the number of times a banner ad is delivered to a Web site.
VW pushes screen saver
Volkswagen of America Inc. is trying technology that initially requires more effort from consumers.
The company went to SeraNova Inc. in Edison, N.J., and asked the e-business consultant to create something different to distribute at auto shows. SeraNova, which Volkswagen has worked with for four years, came up with an interactive computer screen saver, packaged on a mini CD, that pushes Volkswagen information and promotions to users.
'That sort of thing, where the consumer has to do something active - they have to load the disc onto the computer - tends to work the same way ads do for recent buyers of a product: It reassures the consumer that they made the right decision,' said Rice of the Hudson River Group. 'If Volkswagen is looking for loyalty, it's a terrific tool. If they think it's going to help conversion from Honda to Volkswagen, it's not.'
How the screen saver works:
When you put the CD in, it automatically installs the screen saver software onto your computer.
Once loaded, you'll be asked to click to VW.com to register the screen saver.
From that point, the screen saver constantly will connect with VW.com and download updates from the site.
Dave Mecham, associate director of interactive design for SeraNova, said Volkswagen could later offer promotions only to those who have the screen saver or send information about cars that it knows a person with the screen saver is interested in.
Volkswagen created 250,000 of the CDs; 80,000 have been distributed. The company is shooting for 75 percent of recipients to use the screen saver, Mecham said.
Neither company would disclose the cost of developing the CD.