Why Is Everyone Trying To Kill Rich Media?

victor-wongData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Victor Wong, CEO at Thunder.

Rich media came onto the scene with great fanfare and promise. Moving, interactive creative would certainly be more effective and engaging than static banner ads – a win-win for advertisers and consumers alike.

But rich media is taking punches left and right, from the rise in programmatic and the fall of Flash to a change in advertisers’ perceptions about the media’s value. Is rich media down for the count or likely to get back up?

The First Blow: Programmatic

Rich media ads are custom-designed, often in partnership with a particular publisher and inventory in mind, such as a home page takeover. That feels like the antithesis of programmatic advertising. The creative execution costs good money, often sizably more than your standard display ad. It’s not an ad you want to deliver “anywhere.”

If you’re investing so much in the ad’s creation, you probably plan to invest in a tailored distribution strategy, too. A programmatic play, the new standard for simplifying the ad buying and selling process, seems counterintuitive.

Programmatic’s first take on rich media entailed serving the units in standard-sized boxes in remnant inventory. That didn’t feel right. You are not going to take a high-impact creative and run it on the cheapest inventory you can find.

Now, premium programmatic solutions allow advertisers to serve rich media campaigns programmatically, but this hasn’t excited the industry apart from a few basic formats, mostly in-banner video. Plus, most publishers don’t want to automatically let anyone take over their page and their consumer experience.

Programmatic and interactive rich media just aren’t great bedfellows.

Blow No. 2: HTML5

Flash was the original rich media tool. With the death of Flash came the death of the most widely used techniques for creating rich media creative.

For designers, it’s jarring to have your tools, templates and knowledge become obsolete. Flash isn’t great these days, but HTML5 isn’t as dynamic or, for many, as fun to work with. While rich media ads were once desirable projects for creative – a chance to really showcase their talent and produce something of substance, often beauty – they now lack that allure for many.

It’s a shakeup for the rest of the ad industry, too. Agencies have had to re-evaluate their ad creation and quality assurance processes, and are now grappling with the technical realities of working on complex units in HTML5.

Another bull’s-eye on rich media’s back is the IAB’s new LEAN ad standard. LEAN stands for light, encrypted, AdChoices-supported and noninvasive/nondisruptive. Said the IAB, “… ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries. … We overengineered the capabilities … steamrolled the users, depleted their devices and tried their patience.”

With heavy file loads, expandable formats and autoplay video, rich media ads are the worst violators of the L (light) and the N (noninvasive) by design. The new standard makes it clear that the public is no longer standing for these types of units and rich media needs to make room for something better, something LEAN.

Blow No. 3: Performance And Perception

There are problems with building the ad and problems with delivering it. But perhaps most detrimental of all is that rich media hasn’t delivered the type of user metrics we had hoped for. It makes advertisers wonder: Do the results warrant the premium production prices?

There was an expectation that advanced audio and visual features and interactive elements would make banner ads better. Many thought consumers would welcome a more engaging user experience and advertisers would drive better results with such executions. At rich media’s onset, consumers’ willingness to interact with ads was probably overestimated.

Sure, there’s research that touts rich media units as being more engaging and generating more clicks than standard display, and those figures can look quite impressive. There is value in engagement, but personalization of content trumps interactivity of content because personalization works when you see the ad, not just if you’re willing to play with it.

Rich media facilitates on-page storytelling, which has merit, but much of its value can be achieved in other ways, such as by sequencing messages via programmatic display ads or investing in native advertising. Furthermore, many of the most impressive rich media executions would be better suited as web pages, where a superior user experience and access to more meaningful analytics can be created.

In terms of interactivity, any of these formats are more approachable than a rich media unit.

What is it that rich media does that can’t be achieved in other more effective ways? Do the results warrant the spend and the headaches? It is not a KO yet, but a TKO, at least, might be in the works.

The animated banners aren’t going away, but for the interactive units that essentially define rich media today, those glory days are over.

Follow Victor Wong (@vkw), Thunder (@MakeThunder) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Interactive rich media banners were always nice in theory, but over time most users simply would either ignore them or quickly find the close button.

    Rather than lament the decline of these banners or try to resurrect them, it may be smarter to embrace new formats. Ultimately, banner ads are best treated like billboards along an expressway. It’s fine to grab attention and quickly deliver a message, but do not expect anyone to pull over to get all the details or to be thrilled when one falls over and blocks the roadway.

    With the growth of video, there may be opportunities for more interactive pre-roll video. Within the :15 a user is waiting to watch their desired video content, there is plenty of time to get users’ attention and engage, like with minigames. Hulu does a great job with this.

    There is a huge opportunity for advertisers and their creative teams to create experiences not possible in any other media. Properly executed, this may be far more effective than TV.

    The only limit is that there is not a ton of video content that could support such efforts. Outstream and in-banner video are often mixed with true video inventory, which lacks a ton of scale (for now).

  2. Combining data for targeting, dynamic content for personalization and rich media’s ease of creation and serving means that we’re actually at a renaissance of rich media. Programmatic, HTML5 and performance are in-fact proof points for the growing popularity of rich media formats:

    1. Programmatic rich media exists and works well. PMPs are certainly one way to overcome any technical issues with how creative will render via programmatic buys. Rich Media can be easily served across programmatic by using domain-based ad serving that adjusts creative behavior at impression time to fit the criteria of any given site.

    2. HTML5 creation tools are abundant and widely available. The death of Flash didn’t mean the death of rich media, it took the shackles off of creatives and let them build how they want. Google Web Designer, Hype, Adcade, Adobe Animate or Adobe Edge all allow for creation, and most rich media serving companies offer point-and-click tools. If anything, it’s easier to create HTML5 ads than Flash ads.

    3. Performance of rich media completely blows standard ad units out of the water. We’ve seen benchmarks for RM more than double those for standards – even on lowest common denominator metrics such as CTR. Personalization of content is paramount with targeting and data, but rich media engagement raises purchase intent – just touching an ad raises brand recall by 28%. The idea that people are “playing with” an ad shows a lack of understanding of how people engage with content – does watching a video on a news site mean they are “playing with” a video?

    Indeed, the RM renaissance is here. You can serve an ad to a person’s mobile device showing them the nearest coffee shop with a dynamic offer based on time of day and temperature, and in the ad also give them an option to explore a new menu item, nutritional information, and watch the TV spot for a new grocery item.

  3. I think one of the problems is that rich media is being injected into “non-rich” content. A flashy animation or video ad in the middle of an text article is distracting and disrupting from the content which the user is there to consume.

  4. Rich media is down for the count. Just look at PointRoll, Eyewonder, Unicast, Eyeblaster, Klipmart, Interpolls, et al. to see that rich media can be proclaimed dead. Chinese menu style pricing, limited power of agency digital creative directors, and nobody caring about creative have lead to lights out. Rich media has been become nothing more than sizzle for publisher and ad network sales team for a while now. Media buyers with no creative aptitude have their media sellers packaged it in as “added value”, which is code for no value or a fleecing somewhere else.

  5. Rich media is far from dead – some can do it correctly and some can’t. You can’t be a “standalone creative” company to do it right. You have to offer all of the pieces in the tech stack.

    Now – When the synchronization of these ads with your more “standard” ads (even in HTML) can happen, it can create a great synergy for a brand and blow KPI’s through the roof.