How do you advertise on a Web-based instant messaging service without interrupting conversations and annoying the hell out of users? Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg thinks he has the answer: “There is a moment of boredom while they are waiting for a response, that is when they click on ads.” He’s observed this based on how people interact with the ads which began appearing on Meebo .com last March. Today, Meebo is creating an ad network across partner sites which use its new Community IM service, which ads a Meebo IM bar at the bottom of participating sites.
Visitors to one of the 85 partner sites which have implemented the Community IM product (including Current TV, DailyStrength, Flixster, and Webs.com) can chat with their IM buddies without leaving the sites. Today, Meebo is introducing new ad units which pop up along the bottom left of the browser, beginning with ads for the Toyota Piou and AT&Ts. For the Toyota ad, a little car icon pops up on the left of the Meebo IM bar, away from all of the chat activity on the bottom right. If you click on the car, a larger ad 900X400 pixel rich ad overlay opens up which can show a video or any number of interactive ads. “When they click we do not take them away from the conversation,” says Sternberg. During the whole time people is watching the ads, they can still chat with their friends through the Meebo IM column on the right.
These ads are similar to VideoEgg’s Twig Ad bar, except they are integrated directly into each site rather than use a frame overlay. But the opt-in nature of both types of ads are part of a general trend of giving consumers control over when and how marketing messages are presented to them.
Meebo says its IM service reaches 50 million people a month and can target ads on age, gender, or location. Sternberg says Meebo is seeing 1 percent clickthrough rates on the ads. But he is not without competitors. AOL is planning to offer its own IM bar to external sites through its Socialthing for Websites service, which presumably will also be connected to its ad network. The exchange with sites is that they get social IM features without having to reinvent the wheel, and they get a share of any IM-based ad revenue as well.