Why some adverts work, and why most don’t…

Yeah, sorry, this isn’t really related to gaming. Sorry for the length, too. Something that turned up in the New York Times today just caught my attention.

It’s no doubt come to your attention that many people are using AdBlock Plus. You probably use it. I certainly use it; the majority of advertisements served by any site are of zero relevance to me, either being for goods and services I’m not interested in, or being for something I am interested in, but prefer to rely on word-of-mouth, trusted recommendations or detailed reviews for when deciding whether or not I want to purchase it.
If a site cares enough to ask the audience not to use AdBlock Plus because the revenue for adverts helps defray the cost of running said site, they probably also care enough to make sure adverts are very specifically targeted to their audience; so I turn AdBlock off if a site cares to ask. I want the site to stay up and they deserve not to have to pay through the nose to do that.

Anyway, this start-up, AdKeeper, thinks that people will accept their product as an alternative for AdBlock Plus. They think that, in some circumstances, viewers will accept advertisements. I don’t disagree with them on this.
Sometimes a person really needs, say, double-glazing installed. In which case they look in the local Yellow Pages equivalent, or Google for a solution. Yellow Pages/Google listings are advertisements, as much as they’re directories of contact information.
So, not exactly what AdKeeper’s Mr. Kurnit is hoping for. The reason banner adverts get so little click-through is two-fold; first, the audience for advertisements like that is extremely limited, as you need to catch the right member of the audience at exactly the right time and right place, when they have a reason to be interested and haven’t already found what they’re looking for. If I urgently need a roofing specialist as the summer storms have once again caused my ceiling to start crying, I’m not going to be browsing the LP Archive, which is one reason they don’t run adverts relating to roofing. I don’t want a car, I don’t want fifty free emoticons, I don’t want a dubious offer for a free iPod if I just sign up for some scheme, and I don’t want- actually, I am interested in adverts for MMORPGS, so long as they’re not marketed like Evony was.

Second – and this is something I picked up from A-Level Communication Studies, or even GCSE English, it’s that elemental and basic – it needs to be engaging. Every single advertisement in any form needs to be engaging. It needs to catch the audience’s eye, and be memorable. This is the backup idea in some of the utter dross out there, and the primary concept for some of the best advertisements I’ve ever seen. If your actual audience doesn’t want double-glazing or a car right now, you want them to remember the advert and hence your product when they do want a car or something to occupy their time or… why do those free iPod scams even get advertising? Are they that popular?
Well, I suppose the lottery is popular.
Most advertisements out there are dross. Some are entirely dross and others are dross to the wrong audience. Some of them with a good idea of how people work try to make the advert funny in some way. People remember the good, entertaining advertisements, even if they forget all the facts. Especially if there weren’t any facts beyond the name of the product. Even if they weren’t the intended audience for the advertisement. Then they suddenly need a car and think ‘what was that advert I saw last month? The one with all the pieces?’, visit Google or Youtube, and find this again. Or this. Or even this. Two of these use car pieces in ways I’m certain were never initially intended. One only has a very tenuous link to cars, involving lots of things going down a road. I’m reasonably sure anyone reading this post can make a good guess at all three of those advertisements just from those descriptions. I’m absolutely sure that I consider the first two of those three advertisements to be the best advertisements I’ve ever seen for anything; they’re wonderful to watch and think about what was achieved with what was never intended to do things like that, and they don’t bore me with car facts. (Note: I watch Top Gear. That doesn’t bore me with car facts, either.) Most importantly, and impressively, even someone vehemently opposed to learning to drive because she’ll probably drive into some[one/thing] with her horrible reflexes and coordination, and hence absolutely not in the intended audience for any of those advertisements, finds these things incredibly memorable.

Car advertisements seem to do things like this better than most. Possibly because you can’t actually throw out any facts at all and have it still appeal to the not-immediate-audience of people-who-want-a-new-car. Or even the immediate audience, as some care about fuel economy, some care about speed, some care about appearance…
Top Gear tried to make a car advertisement, once. I liked some of the ideas that got shot down by the Alan Sugars. They sounded memorable and entertaining. Just like… Top Gear.

You can’t do that with a banner advertisement. Not positively. Evony (probably) tried and got mocked relentlessly for it; I remember it, despite not being terribly interested in browser-based things like that. It’s that much more difficult to make a still image at that size amusing and/or engaging in the same way that a two- or three-minute commercial can be. It’s very easy to make it as dull as the average TV advertisement and hence just as easy to ignore and forget.
There’s one single still advertisement that I remember, outside of the Evony fiasco. It’s for a game I already played at the time I saw it. Here.

So, back to AdKeeper. Once people save an advertisement – in other words, once they’ve already shown a little interest in it already, if only by interacting with it to make it go away – the click-through rate goes up to 3.4% from 0.1%.
In other words, if they think the advertisement is in some way relevant to themselves in the first place, such that they saved it for later viewing, they still don’t click through 96.6% of the time. That article doesn’t say whether saving an advertisement replaces the one on the webpage with another, or leaves it there, or makes it vanish from the page; I think that behaviour will have more of an impact on whether people use AdKeeper than the apparent primary function of the thing, saving banner advertisements unmemorable enough that they don’t make any lasting impression.
So AdKeeper has a purpose, and does make sense, but its audience is ‘advertising agencies and networks who think they or the people using their adverts and networks can stop people from just using AdBlock Plus, or relying only on the people who will not use AdBlock Plus’.

AdKeeper and RealMedia think that most of the time people don’t want to be pulled away from the page they’re currently reading. Today, even Internet Explorer has tabs. Chrome’s had tabs all along. Firefox has had tabs far longer than Internet Explorer. A person nowadays can very easily open a link in another tab for reading once they’re done with the current tab.
I think people don’t pay any attention to advertisements because, 99.9% of the time, banners simply aren’t relevant, or interesting.


1 Comment

  1. Scott Carmichael said,

    August 9, 2011 at 2:40 am

    I’ve worked in the design industry for years and two jobs ago, I worked for a magazine publisher that had 9 publications, websites for each and had in any given month about 50 unique banner/button ads across all of them. (That doesn’t sound like a lot, but these were niche sites and we didn’t use Google Adwords or anything to get ads – these came from the salespeople).

    Anyways, as I tried to explain to the sales people over and over, display ads only do one of two things:

    1) They exist to build brand awareness

    2) They want to make a person click it

    Now, the reason why you don’t find ads that do both very well is that a person generally needs to be really engaged or encouraged to click. For banner ads from Pepsi, McDonalds, V05, Ford or Iron Man 2, a person who is interested in these things already knows enough about them. In other words, if you already know enough about a product or service, you aren’t probably gonna click at all.

    The reason why branding ads don’t play nice with ROI-driven ads is that an ad that wants people to click it often had to devote most of the visual real estate to a message or reason for someone to click…and the brand is often reduced in prominence or actual size.

    Now here’s the kicker with ads that want interaction……from what I can tell, the people who want click-thrus the most are often the most idiotic people in the world. If you want me to sign up with GoDaddy, showing a hot girl in a banner ad does diddly squat. It might make me look, but a look is a far cry from a click.

    Now if that banner ad said I would receive 33% off my order, I would seriously consider clicking.

    Now the amount of a discount or deal is extremely important for call to action messages. A banner ad mentioning “10% off through Jun. 15th!” does nothing. Why? Because 10% off is a sale every company has at any given time. Since most companies have profit margins way above 10% they can eat it at any time.

    But if a company is willing to take 25%-33% or even 50% off something, THAT will attract attention. Also, when combined with things such as “Free S&H” and “Guaranteed fast delivery” a message is really sold to people.

    The problem is, most companies that want tons of click-thrus fail to put in a decent call to action. They usually show a product, list off a few bullet points or tagline and then that’s it…that’s all.

    That’s not enough.

    And even the message can be severely distorted/ignored if the look of an ad is terrible. You wouldn’t believe the absolutely disgusting images of food Amazon’s LivingSocial.com website (a Groupon clone) uses. It’s literally the most disgusting food I’ve ever seen. Even if they offered 75% off, I wouldn’t click. See an example here: http://i.imgur.com/9ziRr.jpg

    Display advertising needs a strong message, great aesthetics and enough time in a prominent place to get eyeballs to view it. Throwing a banner ad in a randomly rotating spot that is home to 20 eyeballs a minute is stupid. The best ads are static in placement for weeks or a month, perhaps longer. If an ad is fairly consistent, people won’t be aggravated by it and may even read/view the imagery/message. But if every time you refresh the homepage the ads change, there’s no chance for a viewer to have an ad sink in.

    Finally, advertisers need to make sure they update their ads frequently. If you want to advertise on the same site for 6 months, don’t use the same banner ad for 6 months straight! Visitors, even if they click once, will have no reason to even click again. Ads should ideally be changed out every 2-4 weeks but no sooner or later. If you change it too soon, people won’t get a chance to absorb it. If you wait too long, people will start to just ignore it.

    I don’t use Adblock at all because I don’t believe in taking money away from sites I visit (and that’s how they make their money) and for sites I really like/use a lot (like Hotmail and messageboards here and there) I have, in the past, paid a premium annual fee to NOT see ads.

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