Vibrant Launches New Ad Division

Vibrant is forming a new team tasked solely with creating ads that aren’t really ads.

The company, best known for placing contextually relevant ads on Web content pages that appear only when a user scrolls over specific words, is launching a Hyperlink Content Division. That group, which Vibrant plans to staff up to 40 people by the end of this year, will specialize in helping clients incorporate content rather than traditional display or video assets within in-text placements.

About 41 percent of Vibrant’s 5 billion monthly ad impressions are content-based, said officials, generating about a third of the company’s revenue. Just a few years ago,100 percent of its impressions were purely ad-driven, often featuring simple text ads or logos.

As a result of that shift, Vibrant is receiving more yearlong commitments from advertisers, said CEO Doug Stevenson. After pulling in a record $100 million in 2009, ad revenue has surged by 39 percent in first quarter over Q1 ’09.

The thinking is that for many advertisers—particularly brands that don’t have direct-response objectives—ads that provide users with some sort of utility are more appropriate than ads that simply interrupt a reader. “Advertisers tell us we are delivering a better user experience,” said Stevenson. That’s particularly the case for the packaged-goods category, which he said increased spend by 68 percent last year.

For example, in the past an advertiser like Hellmann’s would purchase ad inventory tied key words such as “potato salad” and then likely serve a banner ad for its mayonnaise or salad dressing. Today, by contrast, Hellmann’s runs in-text ads via Vibrant featuring recipes that call for its products.

“Every major client has some kind of content,” said Anna Kassoway, Vibrant’s svp, global marketing and creative, who has already helped several advertisers build out databases and creative for content-driven ads.

Ritu Trivedi, managing director at Mindshare, who has applied in-text campaigns for Unilever’s Ragu, said most clients have already invested in elaborate Web sites and Facebook fan pages, as well as traditional media—all of which can be leveraged via Vibrant’s ads. “Brands spend a lot of money building all this content,” she said. “This allows us to bring it to them where they are already highly engaged.”

The trick for Vibrant has always been to engage readers, without irritating them. “You have to be really careful about this kind of thing because of the annoyance factor,” said David Rittenhouse, media director, neo@Ogilvy. “The currency and the usefulness aspects of these ads make a big difference.”