Will Vibrant Media’s redesigned in-context ads win over consumers?

When former About.com CEO Cella Irvine was brought in to lead contextual ad company Vibrant Media last fall, part of her charge was to get consumers to warm to the company’s in-text advertising, which has, over the years, taken a few knocks for being intrusive and annoying.  On Wednesday, the company is rolling out a redesigned approach that it hopes will do just that.

The redesign expands Vibrant Media’s in-text ads – which pop-out when people mouse over double-green underlined words in an online article – to “in-context” ads that also surface under relevant editorial images. The new strategy also includes additional visual cues for consumers to signal that an ad is about to pop up and a wider range of ad formats for marketers.

In an interview, Irvine said the redesign is meant to make Vibrant Media’s ads more transparent and interactive so that the company can win over consumers and, ultimately, advertisers.

“Consumers are becoming more demanding in their expectations about advertising – especially digital advertising,” she said. “They want control and choice with how they interact with ads and they would also like to see more engaging ads with higher production value.”

She also said that even though people are learning to ignore certain parts of a web page and fast-forward through TV commercials, through social media and other digital channels, users are also learning to interact with advertising.

As part of the redesign, users won’t just see double green lines under ad-enabled text, they’ll also see a new icon (a double-facing arrow) that Irvine said serves as an extra signal of an upcoming ad. After a user mouses over the ad-enabled text, they’ll first see a progress (or countdown) bar, which gives them an opportunity to disengage, before the ad opens. The process, Irvine emphasized, is user-initiated, as a user needs to hover over the text for a little under three seconds before it activates (in Europe, it’s three seconds).

The new design also features a full-screen rich media ad unit, called Mosaic, that includes branded videos and photos, social media commentary and the option for users to participate in social conversations.

Irvine said about 4 percent of users stay on the countdown bar to launch the video and then 40 to 50 percent of users complete viewing a 15 second spot.

Given consumer “banner blindness” and the ease with which Internet  users ignore web ads, Vibrant Media’s in-context ads certainly give brands a better shot of getting noticed. And their expansion in rich media makes plenty of sense given the growth in online video and social media marketing. The risk is that consumers could continue to find the in-context approach to be too obtrusive. The extra signals do give consumers extra time to stop an ad before it fully opens but, within three seconds, a consumer could still accidentally hover over ad-enabled text and feel annoyed by the extra activity on the screen.