Adverts that don't suck

Online advertising can be a fraught subject. Just ask any of our online sales team -- they love it when we post stories about the downturn in the sales market or lack of interest in banner ads or whatever.

Online advertising can be a fraught subject. Just ask any of our online sales team -- they love it when we post stories about the downturn in the sales market or lack of interest in banner ads or whatever.

But the problem is more complex than simply that of editorial versus advertising. The problem stems from two sources: the data collection model is all wrong and the ads themselves are annoying.

Online advertising was sold to ad agencies, not advertisers themselves, as being able to provide actual numbers of readers. It would be a way of measuring what was really going on with an ad -- who was looking at it, where they come from, where they went and so on. Advertisers can't get that kind of quality of information from TV, print or radio, but the web would provide it.

Sadly, it turned out that many of us never click on ads and some have the audacity to surf with images turned off so we don't even see their flickering and flashing.

Online ads generally don't get any more click-throughs than a TV ad gets watched at home. Just let your eyes rest on the screen so you can un-mute once Malcolm in the Middle comes back on.

Ads generally aren't what we buy a publication or watch a TV show for. Why would it be any different on the web? Instead, web ads can be used to brand a product or company or to point to a special offer or so on. Rarely do they provide new information. If I want to know about a product I generally go to the advertiser's home page rather than clicking on their ads, so I don't get counted in the ads' traffic.

That's where problems have arisen, because what users do with the ads is at odds with what ad agencies think they do. I might have only clicked on one or two ads in my entire time online, but generally I do take in what they're selling and what they're advertising.

Usually it's a negative emotion I attach to the company, however, because the goddamned ad is getting in my way. Has anyone actually clicked on one of those X25 webcam ads or, god forbid, bought a camera off them? All I know is when the time comes for me to buy a camera I will buy anything other than one of those monstrous beasts.

The designers clearly were thinking outside the square. First came pop-ups, then the pop-unders, which are a stupider version of pop-ups, jump-through ads, giant size banners and in-text ads and all those other pointless excuses designed to annoy browsers and turn them to other products.

TelstraSaturn was officially very pleased with its mouse ad, which clung to the pointer on-screen like one of those baby spider monkeys clinging to its mother. Unofficially it yanked the damned thing off faster than I could CTRL-F5 my browser. Why? Because customers were ringing up and yelling "make it stop". Jump-through ads are the same -- they interfere with the editorial layout and that's bad because it annoys the reader.

So what can advertisers do? Simple, make people want to click on your ad. It doesn't have to take them off to the product page. How boring is that? Instead it could do just about anything. I only ever pay attention to ads, online or off, that are interesting, that catch my eye -- and I mean that in a metaphorical sense. It doesn't mean use strobing graphics to induce a seizure, okay?

Hewlett-Packard had two ads running on IDGNet last month. One was to design and throw a virtual paper airplane and was great fun. The other did something complicated with axes and allowed you to create a kind of steel-ball-on-a-rubber-sheet effect, which was also entertaining. I've seen "shoot the monkey" games which can be mildly amusing and so on. They don't interfere with me reading the news I'm after, they don't stop me from downloading what I wanted. They don't annoy me with ads targeted at Americans for products that aren't available in New Zealand. I've also seen ads placed in games and this can also be a great idea. Put them in context and you and the gamer will enjoy the experience.

I guess what I'm saying is if they're interesting, witty, entertaining or amusing I might just visit the advertiser's site. If they're boring, annoying, facile or all of the above they get added to a blacklist in my brain and, believe me, I have a long memory when it comes to being annoyed.

Online advertising has yet to mature. It's time we learned just what it's all about and what makes it work, because it does work, but only if it's used correctly.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags online advertising

More about F5Hewlett-Packard AustraliaTelstraSaturn

Show Comments