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