Do ‘Walk-Through’ Ads Have the Zip That’s Missing in Hyperlocal Publishing?

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AddiplyLogo_v01A lot of advertising on community sites is — let’s face it — just plain dull.

Most hyperlocal editors and publishers put their energy into how to make their editorial content as engaging as possible. That can be a persuasive come-on to businesses being courted as potential advertisers. But how many businesses want to return the favor by paying for a static display ad?

Targeted display ads do better, but many consumers are annoyed by “just-for-you” messaging that follows them around on their computer or smartphone like the digital equivalent of flies. (This annoyance is being communicated to Congress, where the Senate is considering  “Do Not Track” legislation if the ad industry doesn’t tighten its self-regulation of “behavioral” ads.)

Welcome to “walk-through” ads —  here, here and here.

These new “AdSweeps” are being offered by U.K. ad exchange Addiply and produced by Spain-based visualization technologists Voovio, both of which are reaching out to hyperlocal news sites looking for new ways to generate revenue. While the overall local-hyperlocal digital market is big — projected to reach $24.3 billion in the U.S. in 2013, according to Borrell Associates — most revenue is captured by newspaper websites and commercial pureplays (like Autotrader, Yellow Pages, Groupon and the like). News pureplays, for the most part, have had to settle for the crumbs that drop from the table.

AdSweeps could help change that. They transform 2D photographs into the 3D-like experiences shown in the above examples. The aim is not to objectify users as statistical constructs of demographic or psychographic data points, but to appeal to the universal sense of curiosity.

“Walk-throughs tell ‘the story’ of the business,” says Addiply founder and CEO Rick Waghorn. “It’s almost as if the owner is guiding you through his or her world. It’s a far more engaging invitation to share their business with you, the potential customer, than you ever get off even the smartest banner ad. There’s an intrigue to it: ‘Okay, what’s this? Heh. So that’s what it looks like inside.'”

AdSweeps are a bit more challenging to produce than static display ads. But the community publisher doesn’t have to be a master of coding to add walk-throughs to his or her site. For a $26 one-off fee, Voovio provides the software and hosting for the 3D-like tour. The publisher also pays a local photographer to take a series of photographs at the business that will be featured in the ad. That assignment is maybe four or five hours of work at whatever the photographer charges — probably up to $300, maybe less if the photographer sees the job as a learning experience in digital production.

While Voovio’s “3D” technology can produce inviting walk-throughs, the next step is to offer a richer experience with “zoom-ins” and voice-over. These features, Voovio’s UK director Nick Tinker agrees, could be used for special AdSweeps such as a tour of supermarket that wants to promote locally grown produce and other farm-to-table products at an introductory special price.

“A photographer could create ‘hotspots’ and other interactive elements such as zooming into a food display and highlighting text with voiceover,” says Tinker.  “However, this is created ‘in-house,’ part of the industrial training services Voovio offers and will not be included in the initial launch of our ‘MySweep’ web app, the platform which Addiply use to create the AdSweeps.”

“Although Voovio is arguably the most advanced virtual tour technology on the market, we do not want to alienate smaller businesses and less experienced photographers by making it too complicated at the initial launch. Therefore we have decided that this feature will be included into the MySweep web app at a later date, once people are used to using our technology and ready for the next phase.”

There is, of course, already well-established video technology that has been used in some ads, mostly regional or national, but Waghorn says, “Yes, video is already out there, but in our experience not with the ease and the price point the Addiply-Voovio tie-in offers with walk-throughs.”

What else does Addiply provide for the 10% commission it gets from ad sales from its client hyperlocal publishers?

“Addiply is not an ad network in the traditional ‘top down’ sense,” Waghorn said. “We do not deliver ads ourselves — we merely provide a free piece of location-aware ad tech that allows, for example, the local publisher to outsource their ad sales to third parties, like a local marketing agency or the former ad rep from the local newspaper looking for a way to re-utilize his or her years of experience in that local ad space.

“We look to lift the burden of ad sales off individual web publishers. Let them focus on delivering engaging content and let a network of ad sellers sell for them on an automated, highly-targeted and transparent basis.”

Many independent hyperlocal news sites don’t have the resources to stay on top of rapidly evolving technology. That’s a gap that Addiply can fill, Waghorn says, explaining: “With the API enhancement, including SDK coding for mobile app developers to access the burgeoning mobile-local market place — to deliver geo-targetted local coupon and offer opportunities within their own app experience — Addiply would look to work with the 3 million ‘social coder’ community that sits within the GitHub platform to further its appeal to the global developer community.”

So, the Addiply message to hyperlocal news sites is: Focus on your editorial content. Let us help you turn your audience engagement into revenue, and we’ll keep you on top of technology too.

Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.