Let’s see… why aren’t advertisers using widgets more often? Hmmm, maybe because advertisers are still largely defined by a display ad mentality that hinges on their ability to get consumers to click on a banner in response to cute creative or simply tricking them.
Until they go digital. Branded widgets are the refrigerator magnets of the Brave New World. These compact, portable little software apps — from video players to countdown clocks to makeup simulators — are inexpensive to distribute, free to the user and (often enough) distinctly useful. At a minimum, they carry an ad message wherever they go.
Widgets do offer a substantial upping of the ante for advertisers but a few things are lacking. First and foremost, while widgets use script blocks to deliver the hosted widget, there are still far too many inconsistencies with the way that the 40+ destination sites handle widgets.
HTML widgets offer far simpler authoring and more reliable playback, but many social networks only want Flash widgets. Google, on the other hand, would prefer to have as little Flash as possible. Then there is the size issue and the fact that widgets that are not well behaved will cause a number of browser issues on page load.
The ability to track and report on widget traffic is quite erratic from one network to another and instrumentation of widgets can impose network and service overhead that causes problems all it’s own.
The biggest problem for advertisers is that while widgets are free for users, they aren’t free for advertisers and publishers who have to pay directly and indirectly to support them. With the vast majority of widget traffic going into social networks the CPM is atrocious and advertising networks want little to do with them because they don’t like, despite their assertions to the contrary, the long tail. Advertisers want to know where their ads, or in this case widgets, are residing because they believe, rightly I would offer, that their brand integrity demands it.
Despite all that, I love widgets and believe that they offer many compelling advantages over display ads, we just have to get beyond an advertising culture issue to hit mainstream with them. It’s kind of like behavioral and micro-targeting, every advertiser and advertising network says these are definitely the future, but very few actually ever explore using these techniques.