For many media buyers, the more prominent the ad, the better the ad.

Case in point: earlier this year, GM pulled its paid campaigns on Facebook in a very public way prior to the social network's highly-anticipated IPO.

The back story: Facebook had rebuffed GM's demand for bigger, bolder ads.

While Facebook has become more aggressive in integrating advertising into the world's most popular social network, it had a pragmatic reason for saying no to GM: consumers hate bigger, bolder ads just as much as media buyers love them.

The good news for companies like GM: when it comes to annoying consumers, there are plenty of options.

So which kinds of ads create the most consumer frustration?

To find out, digital ad platform provider Respond conducted a survey of more than 1,000 UK consumers. The results?

  • Video ads that automatically play upon page load were the most annoying format, with nearly three-quarters of respondents indicating that these were irritating.
  • Pop-ups and pop-unders were the second and third most annoying ad formats, with 69% and 56% of those polled, respectively, saying that these were an annoyance.
  • With 52% and 38% of respondents, respectively, calling them irritants, expanding ads and in-content ads that appear when a user hovers over a word rounded out the five worst ad formats from the consumer perspective.

Are you a media buyer (or seller for that matter) not trading in any of these ad formats?

Don't breathe a sigh of relief yet: over a third of survey participants (37%) have a high standard, stating that ads they deem irrelevant are a turn-off.

It doesn't pay to annoy

Not surprisingly, the most annoying ads are likely to grab a user's attention, which is why media buyers are willing to pay a premium for them.

But the cost of putting revenue before usability can be significant for publishers. 62% of those Respond polled said that they were likely to abandon a page with annoying ads, and 55% went so far as to claim that they would be less likely to return to the offending site altogether.

Guy Cookson, Respond's co-founder, summed it up succinctly:

Interruptive ad formats are hugely unpopular with website visitors, and although they can generate revenue for digital publishers in a tough economic climate, the risk is this seriously undermines efforts to build a loyal audience.

Is there a better alternative?

Given how difficult it can be to reach consumers through online ads without annoying them, and the prevalence of ad blocking software (Respond says 62% of those it surveyed are or will use ad blockers), it's no surprise that media buyers and media sellers are working together to blur the lines between advertising and content.

The rise of the advertorial, or "branded content" as it now being called, has emerged as one of the most popular examples of this. The Huffington Post, Business Insider and BuzzFeed are just a few of the high-profile digital publishers entering the space.

But is this, or something like it, the solution? Branded content may not seem as annoying, but the reason annoyance is so annoying is that it decreases the perceived value of the experience being offered to the user.

If advertorials don't increase the value, don't be surprised to see them on the list of most annoying ad formats a few years down the line.

Patricio Robles

Published 26 October, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (6)

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Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Fascinating and something Brands need to consider very seriously. Thanks for the insights.

over 5 years ago


Chris Reynolds, Online Marketing Engagement Manager at Adecco management & consulting

Econsultancy allows a surprising number of spam comments on their blog.

...I'm looking at you Mr Watches.

over 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

Hey Chris, we have an automatic filter but it does let some through unfortunately, I run through the comments once a day and clear out the spam that escapes - Mr Watches included!;)

over 5 years ago


Chris Reynolds, Online Marketing Engagement Manager at Adecco management & consulting

Hey Matt, it's a curse, I know it tends to be non-native English speakers but I'm always amazed at how clumsy the comments are.

"I'll be grateful in case you continue this in future. Lots of people will likely be benefited out of your writing.", "You are an overly skilled blogger. " etc etc

Maybe there's a niche writing convincing comment spam for purvyors of cheap Ugg boots and Silicon watches...

over 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

lol - yes it is a bit of a bane, And it's actually been a bit of a discussion internally recently that may result in some new rules for commenting (not being called MR. Quality SEO Agency@ for starters...), in the meantime we'll do our best to keep on top of it. on the plus side, if you ever need any wholesale quality ladies handbags, then we can probably hook you up... ;)

over 5 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

At least in the world of remarketing, companies can target users who should have an interest in their services in the first place (after previously visiting the site). A companies main aim here is to persuade the user to convert or become a regular visitor to the site.

Much better than seeing adverts you have little or no interest in.

This is one area that seems better than those mentioned above.

over 5 years ago

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