Advertising is HUGE for most companies. The internet is HUGE for everyone. We live our lives on the internet, keeping in touch with people, doing work, buying things…etc. The internet can contribute to our happiness. It can alter our perceptions of many things. It can also make life much easier. One might assume that since the Internet is so popular, advertising should be a hit online, but reality is just the opposite for banner ads. Don’t get me wrong, we love advertising, but doing it on the Internet is NOT so huge.
There was a study done that found display advertisements on websites to be very ineffective. (You should read the article; it brings up some crucial points, and it will help you form an opinion as I’m discussing the topic here.) A term was coined to describe this at first confusing phenomenon: it’s called banner blindness. When on a website, users barely ever look at the sides of the screen, which is of course where all the advertisements are. Their attention is in the middle where their intended interest happens to be. If users are engaged in a story, they will not be distracted by advertisements. This is not to say that if you have your own website for our business and advertise yourself there that is doesn’t work. This research pertains specifically to display advertisements, inserted in foreign websites.
The study, interestingly, actually used heat maps, which tracked where a user’s eyes were when reading a website. Take a look at these examples:
The heat maps also showed that users are not fixated on design elements that even resemble ads. The mind has been trained to tune these elements out. I find the study very interesting, for those of us in this business. Simply put, people have a purpose when they search online. The difference in other ad sources such as mail, billboards, or newspapers is that there isn’t just one purpose when you use them; and add in that with hardcopy, the ad doesn’t go away without the reader’s actively causing it to do so. When you read a newspaper, you know there is a stack of ads in the middle, which you read or don’t read. When you check your mail, it is easy to just throw away the advertising pieces, but at least your eyes see it first. Billboards are hard to ignore because driving is boring and it takes two second to glance and then understand them.
The study also points out some unethical ways to make users catch your ad online. It’s hard to walk the line between unethical and just plain smarter marketing. The one I find the least unethical is to make your ad look like content. Less flashy, for starters. The more an ad looks like a component of the site it’s on, the more users will notice it, whether consciously or subconsciously. Advertisements have gotten a bad rap, deservedly so. No one wants to be pushed around; forcing your audience to ‘see’ you by being gaudy is counterproductive. Contrasting with the website you’re running on is a losing situation. Contracting directly with the publisher of a website, however, will get you more fixations because they plan a specific placement and design, rather than sell ads through an advertising network, which is incapable of caring about your business as much as you do.
If you are going to use display advertisements, customize them: it will be worth your time. Customized ads are better for you and your company!