Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 8, 2011 3:57 PM

The Truth About Display Advertising (And Why Consumers Hate It)

Call it banner advertising or call it display advertising, if you look at the data: consumers are just not that into it.

In the past, I've waxed poetic about how display advertising as a marketing engine is failing online consumers while padding the wallets of publishers (more on that here: The Web Has Failed Advertising and here: Banner Advertising Is But One Small Component Of Digital Marketing). There is no one specific reason why it's such a mess that underperforms. It has to do with everything from the technology and delivery of the creative to the actual creative itself. While publishers will extol the magnificent response rates that full-page take-over ads get or the ones with video in them, the majority of consumers find them distracting and annoying (I often wonder how much of the advertising results culled from these campaigns are real consumers engaging vs. real consumers trying to figure out how to make it go away/stop).

But, there is something more going on here.

At a recent conference, one of the keynote speakers (I wish I could remember which conference and which speaker, but I can't!) said that display advertising is struggling because if you have four ads (or more) running on a TV show, the likelihood that someone will sit through all four in consecutive order is very unlikely (and we're discounting those who skip television commercials in their entirety because they have a PVR), and a Web page is a similar experience. At first strike, this made sense to me: how many messages is one consumer going to sit through? But then I realized that display advertising is in a way worse position because the advertising doesn't happen in consecutive order... it happens all at once.

Test this out:

Go to the website for your local newspaper. How many display ads, banners, buttons, text links, etc... do you see that are ads? Mine has over 15. That's not in consecutive order... that's all at once. It's hard enough to get consumers to sit through four TV ads in a row, so what did you expect to have happen when you blast them with 15 ads on one page, all at once? Foregoing the aesthetics and the basic Marketing lesson that an ad will experience diminishing returns based on how cluttered the environment that it's placed in is, does anyone really believe that this is the best way to advertise to consumer's in the digital spaces?

Think about screens. Think about experiences.

Obviously, not all display advertising fails. There are many creative examples of brands that have broken passed the dismal results that display advertising has delivered over its short lifespan. This Blog post is in no way calling for the death to the banner ad (that would just be more clutter on top of a topic covered all too often). The digital experience now transcends a website on a basic computer screen. Digital is now mobile. Digital is now touch. Online experiences have to work across these different platforms, and the advertising is going to have to own up to this. Cramming a box and call to action into every available digital white space is not going to cut it, and neither is having a handful of messages blinking consumer's attention away from the reason why they're on the site in the first place (the content). It's complex and it's messy, but it doesn't have to be this way. Clean it up!

We don't expect consumers to sit through 15 advertisements running at the same time on their televisions, so how is this acceptable in these new media channels?

By Mitch Joel