Window Seat

Recently, I was part of a group that conducted a media usage study on online advertising. Among other things, the results showed that Internet ads—banners in particular—were highly annoying to consumers. “Banner ads are like flies,” said one participant. “I just want to swat them out of the way.”

Other things that “bugged” consumers included:

• Ads that obscure a site’s editorial content.

• Ads that promise one thing but deliver something else.

• Multiple ads on a page, flashing to compete for attention.

Is anyone really that surprised that online ads have proven so ineffective? If things don’t change, they will continue their harsh decline.

That would be a huge mistake. How often do you get to turn a medium with global-reach potential, one-to-one marketing opportunities and a built-in commerce component into an effective advertising channel? Perhaps once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky.

So what accounts for the medium’s ad woes? Quite simply, research on how people use the Web and how they would best interact with online ads either hasn’t been done or hasn’t been applied. If it were, sites would be configured differently, and Web ads would have a better chance to thrive.

What’s the solution? I believe Internet sites and ad agencies need to work together to create an effective ad venue that, over the life of the medium, has real potential to impact the consumer. Banner ads, as they exist today, are not going to do it, and neither are interstitials. And let’s face it, if the ads are largely ignored by consumers, no advertiser will continue to pay for them.

In order to benefit advertisers over the long term, advertising must:

• Get the consumer’s attention.

• Be measurable.

• Not be so annoying that consumers block it out.

Here’s an idea: Why not create a venue where the advertising is not tied to the length of time a person is on a page (which is highly variable), but to ad exposure time, much like television? We could create a “window” of set space dedicated exclusively to advertising. In this space, ads would rotate in 15- to 30-second increments (or longer, perhaps) and run for that set length of time, regardless of where consumers venture on the site. The window could:

• Be sized to provide compelling advertising “real estate” without obscuring editorial content.

• Be positioned to catch the eye of the consumer without competing with other ads for attention.

• Run long enough for the message to be exposed to consumers.

Measurement issues must also be addressed. We need to be able to say that an ad was in front of X number of people Y number of times for 15 seconds. Knowing the number of impressions served—a bogus number anyway because of how it’s currently determined—isn’t enough. We need to give advertisers meaningful metrics like we do with other media.

If ads can be delivered effectively and success metrics are compelling, online advertising grows and everyone benefits. But one thing is certain: If something isn’t done, it will continue to fight for survival.