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eMarketer has published a timely post on the endurance limits of web users in relation to one of the lamest online ad formats know to man, aka the floating overlay.

By looking at data provided by Dynamic Logic, the firm found that the average person can tolerate two sucky ads per hour, before doing an Assault on Precinct 13 in the comfort of their own office. Doing a Rambo might be more appropriate...

Brands like Mini and BT continue to persist with these horrendous ads, which damage both advertiser and publisher brands. They are the very definition of selling out: publishers sell out their users, advertisers sell out their souls, and anybody earning a penny from the creation of these ads is selling our their common sense.

The Dynamic Logic research found that most people can put up with one to five ads per hour, though the long-term effects of these ads on the brain is not yet known.

I can never understand why these kinds of ads win the awards they do, or are featured in industry magazines positioned as ‘ad of the week’. Turns out that normally it is because senior advertising creatives are the predominant voice on these judging panels, or some ad agency ‘expert’ is in charge of choosing the ad of the week.

Just try asking a web user next time. Irritated people don’t tend to care too much for ‘dynamic creative’ or ‘swish execution’, much less the thoughts of misguided advertising people who can charge extra to create and buy these ad units. How about you stop winding people up, for a few extra quid? It's so short-sighted it hurts, or at least it will do.

Some 21% of respondents said that floating ads should never be displayed, even if the publisher isn’t charging for access to the content. These good-hearted people are the future, and I can’t help but agree with them. 

In truth, the interstitial ad format is probably slightly lamer than the overlay, and is the sole reason why I never visit the Forbes, Information Week or CNET websites. You have to wonder why publishers still accept these hugely interruptive formats? And the tech publishers should really know better - I bet the journalists are appalled. Doesn’t it just seem like bucket scraping?

Actually, maybe it is bucket scraping. Is the online publishing industry really this badly off? Or is there some other reason for it?

Perhaps these ads are a worrying sign that publishers have not bothered to implement demographic / behavioural profiling strategies, to allow for targeting and segmentation somewhere down the line? Targeting helps boost response rates for advertisers, to allow publishers to command higher fees for their advertising inventory.

The other way of boosting ‘response’ rates is to generate clicks in error, by intruding on the user experience. You can do this by paying a premium to roll a ridiculous ad over whatever text the poor visitor is reading, and by making it difficult to locate the ‘close’ button. It’s pathetic, frankly, and it tells us that the people in charge of commissioning these ads don’t really understand what consumers want. Ads do not have to be annoying.

And if you don’t believe me then read the Dynamic Logic research again. The trend is that consumers increasingly hate these ads. It is a fact, unless you don't buy into the data, or have your eyes closed ever so tightly.

Some of these ads are admittedly better than others, but they all suck. Some may generate better levels of response than others, but who clicks these ads on purpose? Idiots do, but who else? And do you really want to pay extra to appeal to idiots? In any event, you shouldn’t be measuring engagement by looking at click rates, because everybody accidentally clicks on these lame ads from time to time. White space isn’t always what it appears to be.

With an advertising downturn looming, and a wider recession pretty much here, we may well see some high profile casualties in the publishing sector. Those that have been planning for the future during the past few years might make it out alive. The losers will be easy to spot: they’ll be the ones showing lots of intrusive ads in the dark months to come.

Further Reading
eMarketer on the Dynamic Logic research
Andy Beal on newspapers commoditising web ad inventory

Chris Lake

Published 14 October, 2008 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Amanda Wright, Business Development Director at Pyott

I've never really understood why FMCG brand owners spend so much money on digital marketing. Who visits sites like andrex.co.uk, huggableskin.co.uk or knorr.co.uk? Surely people with more time than income. But again, these kind of projects win loads of awards and enjoy massive budgets...

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

I think these sites can be used as brand extensions, and to support ad campaigns. They can also be used as a return path for on-pack promotions, which have always been a key weapon in the FMCG brand manager's arsenal. It is much easier to visit a website than the postbox...

Brand websites also provide cheaper customer service provision than a call centre. And we shouldn't write off customer engagement / evangelism just because these are brands not normally associated with a) people caring or b) online / e-commerce.

The trouble is that many of these sites are in desperate need of a makeover. You can tell which ones still live in the dark ages pretty easily. And far too many are Flash-based, which says it all really. The agencies responsible should know better.

There are plenty of reasons why the FMCG lot should make more effort online. We'll be interviewing a bunch of them in the coming months. Suggestions welcomed.

about 8 years ago

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Amanda Wright, Business Development Director at Pyott

Thanks Chris. From a very subjective position - as a consumer of FMCG brands - I'd like to know how they spend their huge profits. Do they - for instance - plough money into the developing world, as they have many loyal but poor customers there. I guess I'm interested in finding out about the CSR/social responsibility angle so I can feel better about shopping with them. As global brands, I'd like to see them making a serious growing commitment to global equity, and the internet would be a natural platform for the communication of this. I don't want any more of the 'domestic goddess' content that you often find around these brands (or - even worse - the cuddly puppy stuff). Obviously, these are highly subjective ideas.

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Exactly - CSR is something that these large companies have to do, so that's another great reason. There will be others. I feel another blog post coming on ; )

about 8 years ago

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Amanda Wright, Business Development Director at Pyott

Chris, following our discussions about FMCG brand owners online, I've just found out that P&G are actually selling online in the US, in order to offer much cheaper products to the customer (by cutting out the retailer). Now this is interesting!

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Ah yes, but they're doing it through a third party, which is a cop out, and the website leaves a lot to be desired (although thankfully it isn’t built in Flash).

Where to begin? The W3C validation test found more than 130 errors on the site. The URL structure is meaningless and not at all search friendly. Details on shipping information is buried in the checkout – a real no-no. There are no filtering tools to support the onsite search results. There are no community features.

It could be a lot better, and it seems that you're right: this is about undercutting retailers rather than adding value or harnessing consumers / brand advocates. Shame really...

about 8 years ago

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Brian Clifton

Great post Chris (as always!).

Its funny but I have been discussing (i.e. complaining!) about the recent come back of pop-ups this year i.e. the involuntary ones that interupt your browsing pleasure: http://www.advanced-web-metrics.com/blog/2008/08/31/when-voice-of-customer-surveys-can-damage-your-brand/

It appears the Voice of Customer vendors, those tools used for feedback surveys that collect qualitative data to shed light on a user's web site experience, have been advocating pop-ups as a way of increasing survey participation and therefore there accuracy.

Of course that's nonsense, spam is spam whether you dress it up as a pop-up, pop-in, pop-over, smack the monkey, or anything else. And as the Dynamic Logic report indicates, results are going to be less accurate (skewed) if you are turning away potential good participants, or turning a good user experience into a bad one.

What surprises me is that some very large brands (including FMCG) are using pop-up survey techniques. I find it hard to believe marketing managers are going along with it, or worse still driving it. Have they learn't nothing in the past 10 years?

Best regards, Brian

about 8 years ago

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Brian Clifton

BTW, I just wanted to add my thoughts on the FMCG discussion...

The greatest opportunity for a brand manager is to use their online presence to present the facts concerning their products. For example, rather than a marketing piece about how clean Ajax can make your floor, describe the environmental impact the ingredients have and the steps the company is making to improve matters.

A great example I use of where this is desperately needed is when you search for "Crest Mouthwash" on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Crest-PRO-HEALTH-Rinse-500-ml/dp/B000BS6VWC/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=hpc&qid=1226009295&sr=8-4)

Of the 148 reviews, 132 are complaints with the following a typical comment "A Better Way to Stain Your Teeth Brown Than Chewing Tobacco".

P&G spent USD $100m in 2005 promoting this product, yet quite amazingly their site (www.crest.com) has no response to this.

Incidentally crest.com use pop-ups for their surveys...!

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Thanks for the good words Brian, and great comments. Based on what I've seen and heard before (http://www.e-consultancy.com/news-blog/363985/p-g-stalls-online-ad-campaigns-blames-metrics.html) I'm not surprised that P&G isn't bothered about reputation monitoring. I fear it's the tip of the iceberg.

And you're right about those annoying pop-up surveys, which continue to pollute all manner of interfaces, and especially in the publishing sector.

about 8 years ago

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Dentist Visalia

It is a simple fact, publishers love it because they are profiting from it, even though it is irritating to users.

almost 7 years ago

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