Research neglect hampers Web ads

Advertising on the Web is expected to exceed $US4 billion by 2001 but there is a lack of research into its effectiveness, says Dr Mike Brennan of Massey University's marketing department. 'You can just about count on one hand the number of studies that have tested the effectiveness of Web advertising.'

Advertising on the Web is expected to exceed $US4 billion by 2001 but there is a lack of research into its effectiveness, says Dr Mike Brennan of Massey University's marketing department.

"You can just about count on one hand the number of studies that have tested the effectiveness of Web advertising."

Brennan and honours student Nathan Rae have recently completed such a study and they discovered just how difficult it is to gather data via the Web. "We struggled to get enough people to give us sufficient numbers in each treatment group."

Brennan and Rae completed two studies — the first involved sending a questionnaire to the client database of a local Internet service provider (ISP) that measured "unprompted recall of information" relating to a particular banner ad they had all been exposed to. The second study tested the effectiveness of sound and animation on the so-called click-through rate, as well as banner recall. That study contacted respondents to New Zealand-based newsgroups.

"Banner ads have two main functions: one is to generate click-through. The second is to increase awareness," says Rae, who points out that a major problem with banner advertisements is that users "generally do not click on them" but still see the ad. Without the click-through, advertisers receive little or no feedback on the effectiveness of an ad.

"What we need is support from someone with a large site or a large client base we can access to get some usable results," says Brennan. He has been talking to ISPs but says they are cautious. Consequently, he is struggling to set up a large-scale survey that would produce meaningful data.

The surveys Brennan and Rae have conducted do have some interesting results. Only 5% of respondents in the first survey and only 6% in the second actually clicked on the banner ad.

Changing the ad itself resulted in a change in the click-through rate. Adding the phrase "click here" also resulted in an increase. Adding animation, a line of scrolling text, actually decreased the click-through rate.

Adding sound to a banner advertisement also had an impact —unprompted recall rates improved when sound was added. Strangely, although around 80% of respondents claimed to have a sound card, only 5% recalled hearing the sound.

"The use of sound and the use of a 'click here' message did tend to improve the effectiveness of the ad, whereas the animation did not," says Rae, although he points out that the animation used in the test ad involved text only, not graphics. He agrees that further research is unlikely to produce a general set of principles that could be applied to all Web ads.

ASB Bank is one company that uses the Web for advertising in New Zealand. "We ran an ad that involved a game with a prize. Over a two month period we received over 23,000 entries, which was astonishing," says spokesperson Adam Heath.

Although ASB Bank doesn't do formal research into Web advertising, Heath says it tracks click-through rates and tries to quantify the feedback it receives from its advertising.

IDC Research country manager Dinesh Kumar says he will be conducting New Zealand-based ad research in the near future.

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