I think we’ve all come to accept that “banner blindness” is a real phenomenon. Sometimes you see solutions and immediately know they just make sense. Solve Media is that.
In the early days of the Internet as an advertising medium the industry organized to create “standard ad units” for which most media companies would sell their inventory. The standards were set by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), which was founded in 1996.
Normalizing ad units obviously has a benefit. But as we’ve all gotten used to the standard “banner” across the top of our screens or the “sky scraper” along the right-hand side we’ve trained ourselves not to look there any longer. Clearly these advertisements make some impact but often the effects aren’t measurable (and even when you do see something it is often subconscious and may manifest itself later as a search query in Google and therefore harder to attribute to the banner). Some companies are solving for this problem algorithmically. More on that another day.
The industry is taking different approaches to the problem. Many are starting to have Rich Internet Application advertisements (RIA) – with ads that sometimes takeover the entire screen without the users consent – classic interruption marketing. I haven’t really looked at the stats as to the efficacy of these campaigns but it’s a clear response to banner blindness.
We all know media companies are suffering as CPMs (the amount they can charge per thousand visitors) are falling, available inventory is climbing, free content and blogs are proliferating, user attention is being divided with social networks and the core media business cash cows like classified ads have been disrupted by companies like CraigsList.
So the debate in the print media world is whether or not to insert a paywall between users and content. Rupert Murdoch, owners of The Wall Street Journal, has famously come down on the side of charging for content. Some of their content is free – much is paid. The Financial Times allows you to view full articles but after you’ve viewed a certain number per month you have to pay a subscription. The New York Times also flirted with the idea when they created “Times Select,” a paid portion of their site including their OpEds. Like many users I just started reading the WaPo OpEds more. They cancelled this program.
But is there a better way? Enter “Solve Media” (there is a 101 second video that explains exactly what they do. Do yourself a favor and watch it if for no other reason than to see how to craft a really tight set of relevant messages for your product that are told in human and buyer’s terms. 10 out of 10 for this video. Awesome. I’m forwarding it to all of my portfolio companies). –> the company who made it is epipheo.
Solve Media offers a middle ground that they believe solves the problem. It certainly resonates with me. They allow content to stay free (Yah!) by having the user enter a small code before seeing the content much like you do with a “Captcha” screen to prove you’re a human. I know, I know. You prefer free AND no advertising. But that is a world where journalists don’t get fed and therefore choose other careers. I’m a huge believer in content owners being compensated. I pay for lots of content and other content I expect to be free (but ad supported).
The beauty of Solve Media’s ad unit (you can see an example at the top of this post) is that the words you enter are not randomly generated and meaningless. They’re an ad campaign. You see the picture of dirty socks plus Tide equals clean socks and enter the words “It makes sense” to see the story you want. As it turns out this drives up brand recall dramatically versus banner advertising (73% recall versus 16% for banners) and message recall from 3% to 41%. Staggering numbers.
Am I an investor? No. I just love the concept and the founder of the company, Ari Jacoby. We first met a couple of years ago and I’ve been impressed with his startup savvy and hustle ever since. Even if he is a Redskins fan He showed me this concept nearly a year ago and he’s managed to keep the company mostly under wraps while they perfected ad units, the data measurement and user experience with advertisers such as Toyota, Microsoft, Universal Pictures, Saatchi & Saatchi, Universal McCann.
And it seems some other people also think it’s pretty clever. The very smart Chris Fralic of First Round Capital is on the board and the angel list is a who’s who of early stage investments. They also raised VC from New Atlantic Ventures and AOL Ventures.