Guest Post: How Google’s Lightbox ‘super-sized canvas’ will enlighten travel marketing

By Ollie Vaughan, PPC Account Director at creative search marketing and social media agency, Tug.

In October 2012 Google announced the beta launch of a new cost-per-engagement display ad format called ‘Lightbox’.

Although currently only available in the US and Canada, a UK launch is pretty much inevitable and Lightbox could mark a turning point in digital marketing ROI.

What’s more, thanks to its rich media potential, Lightbox opens up a world of creative marketing opportunities for image-dependent sectors like travel.

Google’s Lightbox expands a display ad after a viewer has hovered over it for two-seconds.

This is significant because two-seconds is a relatively long time in the fast-paced world of digital, so such lingering is a far better indication of engagement than a simple instantaneous ad click.

According to the search giant: “In internal tests, we’ve seen that this smart hover feature eliminates nearly 100% of accidental expansions and increases engagement by six to eight times over standard click-to-expand ads.”

In short, by only charging advertisers once the ad has been lingered over and expanded, Google is vastly improving ROI because advertisers are only paying for properly engaged viewers.

This ‘cost per engagement’ concept is not earth-shatteringly new.

Trailblazers like Say Media and Firefly Video beat Google to it years ago by creating similar display ad formats.

In fact, Google itself is already using the cost per engagement concept in other non-display areas of its network.

YouTube’s ‘True View’ ads, for example, give viewers the option to skip a pre-roll ad after 5 seconds, with advertisers only paying when the ad is not skipped.

So Lightbox is, in all honesty, just the latest addition to Google’s new ‘family of ads’ that prioritise engagement over clicks.

Although the concept behind Lightbox may have been around for a while, the fact that it is likely to be adopted by Google’s display network is highly significant.

It’s a question of scale; Google’s display network is somewhat omnipresent in the digital space, meaning cost per engagement display ads are about to get a whole lot more common.

Even Google’s rival, Facebook, is now proposing that marketers who analyse campaign success based on clicks are getting it wrong.

They recently said marketers should be focusing on impressions, rather than clicks, claiming that: “90% of sales generated from online branding ad campaigns were from people that saw, but did not interact with, ads – proof that it is the delivery of the marketing message to the right consumer, not the click, that creates real value for brand advertisers”.

Facebook’s assertion that clicks are no longer the holy grail of analysis, combined with Google’s mass scale adoption of ‘cost per engagement’, means the digital display market is on the brink of a huge shake-up.

The shift will no doubt alarm those who champion the more traditional ‘cost per click’ and ‘cost per thousand’ models but, overall, in theory it’s a positive evolution that will generate enhanced ROI.

Improved digital marketing ROI is a seductive offer for any marketer.

But there’s something else that makes Lightbox a no-brainer for the travel industry: its ‘super-sized canvas’.

This expanded ‘post-linger’ area has the potential to host a whole range of rich media, providing a blank canvas that feels tailor-made for sectors that rely heavily on aesthetics as a means of creating desire.

Although there has been much talk of social media shifting the focus of travel marketing onto TripAdvisor-style world-of-mouth recommendations, tempting holiday visuals remain a cornerstone of travel marketing strategy.

And the Lightbox’s rich format capabilities make it ideal for such image-based display advertising.

From aesthetic showcases of hotels and alluring pictures of beaches, through to interactive maps and YouTube videos such as villa ‘walk throughs’, Lightbox will strike lightening into the travel display market.

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