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The Art and Science of Online Engagement

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h1 The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it.

Life of Pi

Here's the trouble with old-school media: It's two dimensional. A TV spot only has two options a 60 second anthem spot or 15 second promotion. Viewers can watch or not watch – they can’t actually opt-in and become a part of the experience. Ditto print, where you can look at an ad or turn the page. As an advertiser, you hope a consumer views your ad and then you pray they take action on their own, at another unrelated time. If they do want to interact, they have to go to a second screen, like their phone, tablet or computer.

The digital world changes all that. Advertisers can make a strong impression by enticing a reader with a low-touch way to take the next step, by inviting them in or by telling a story. Once the consumer qualifies their interest and attention, advertisers can capitalize on that with an experience that delights and draws people in. This creates an advertising ecosystem that plays to multiple types of readers and it allows the marketing to work for everyone.

The key is creating a layered experience. Offer an unassuming door in, then unlocking a rich interactive and captivating world beyond the surface.

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So how do you add layers to a digital ad experience? Here are 5 rules we use to encourage online engagement in ads:

Rule #1: Make the complex appear simple. You can have a ton of great content, but if you don't design the experience to be easily digestible, you'll lose your audience. Break down complex or overwhelming decisions. If you have 25+ recipes create a set of simple decisions and the experience suddenly became rewarding rather than paralyzing.

Rule #2: Anything can be interactive. Commercial spots and static product shots are some of the most common advertiser assets. Something we hear all the time is advertisers who say “My assets are very basic, we have nothing engaging for digital.” Truth is, you can make can make anything interactive. The most basic product stills or video can be layered with hotspots. This adds a layer of engagement, a point of interaction. TV commercials and even (ahem) cockroaches can be turned into user-driven experiences.

Rule #3: Be part of the ecosystem of the Web. The Web is full of data-streams, social feeds, and other free and useful information just waiting to be harnessed. By engaging a weather API to serve relevant creative, or juxtaposing a social feed with a product launch, you can bring personal, relevant information to what would otherwise have been a static, one way conversation.

Rule #4: Hide things - everyone loves a secret. The beauty of layers is you can hide things. In a digital experience, at any moment something can be unlocked, revealed or discovered. Embracing this form of game mechanics helps to drive deeper engagement. You can use timers, interaction commitment or hot spots to unlock deeper content for the user that acts as a reward and a sense of accomplishment.

Rule #5: Live between worlds (the banner and the microsite). Banners mimic the traditional mediums as one-way interfaces, all surface. Microsites are chained to a permanent URL and aim for depth. A hybrid approach considers a microsite that is portable or a banner that becomes immersive. With the technology available today, you can easily take a dedicated microsite and iframe it into an expandable ad.

Above all, when a reader chooses to give you their full attention don’t be shy, layer the experience.

Aziz Hasan is director of creative development at Say Media. Follow him on Twitter @ahzzzz.

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