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Issue for November 2014

Is Running Intrusive Ads Good Business?

Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Is Running Intrusive Ads Good Business?

The straight story about intrusive online and print advertisements.

By William Dunkerley

For some the term "intrusive ad" may sound pejorative. But others think of money at the sound of those words. Many advertisers believe that "intrusive" means their ads will be seen. It's common sense that unseen ads don't bear fruit, so an ad that intrudes upon a consumer's consciousness could be the first step on the path to a purchase.

Getting money out of online advertising has been a perplexing task for many advertisers. Although there is an array of serious-sounding metrics and technically advanced targeting techniques, it is often hard to achieve a desired level of effectiveness.

The Fallacy of the Banner Ad

Historically, one problem was the long-running romance with the banner ad. The concept of a banner ad was never born of wisdom regarding what differentiates an effective ad from an ineffective one; it was simply easy to insert a banner ad from a coding point of view. But on almost all counts, banner ads lacked the qualities that have been known to make advertisements effective. Just consider one quality: size. It's long been known that the response to an ad is generally proportionate to its size. In the print era, a full-page ad would invariably out-pull a tiny fractional. Many banner ads looked like tiny fractionals.

Now advertisers are wising up to the fallacy of the banner ad and are exploring new options.

The New Wave of Online Ads

I saw one such option last week when I went to read an article on a news site. Just as I started reading the article, a brightly colored bus drove across the screen, obscuring the text. It was an ad, and it certainly got my attention. On another occasion I was doing some online research and had more than half a dozen browser windows open on my desktop. All of a sudden I began to hear a loud advertising message. It wasn't on the page that was in current view, so I had to look through all the open browser windows, scrolling up and down the content of each, to find the video that had auto-started so that I could turn it off. And on yet another site, whenever my cursor would inadvertently hover over certain words, ads would pop up.

The advertisements involved were certainly successful in intruding upon my consciousness. But instead of attracting me to the content of their messages, they just annoyed me.

A slightly different annoyance was conveyed to me recently by a business acquaintance. He said he had conducted an online search looking for information about automobile tires and was getting ready to buy. But according to his story, over the next several days he started seeing ads delivered on various unrelated sites he would visit. The ads were pushing automobile tires.

Why was that annoying? Because he felt his privacy had been violated. He surmised that one or more sites he had previously searched had sold his IP address or planted cookies on his computer that allowed advertisers to target him with the tire ads. His annoyance over that was greater than whatever utility he might have derived from the targeted ads.

The lesson here is that advertisements that are intrusive may not be fundamentally bad. But those that annoy prospective buyers need to be re-thought because they can do more harm than good.

Learning from the Telemarketing Industry's Mistakes

The telemarketing industry provides a model for how not to handle intrusive advertising. In its infancy, the field appeared to many as a new and interesting approach to selling. In time, though, unscrupulous or unthinking marketers bombarded consumers with so many ill-timed and irrelevant messages that complaints led to legislation that seriously limited the industry. Unfortunately, the legislation was poorly crafted by elected officials and a certain level of annoyance still persists. In fact, new concerns have arisen over the upswing in messaging directed at mobile devices.

Unilever marketing vice president Marc Mathieu recently remarked, "I really am convinced that in five years from now, three years from now, people will not -- I will not -- receive advertising messages on my phone I don't want." He added emphatically, "I don't want them. You don't want them, so why do we [marketers] want to push them to people?"

Intrusive Ad Strategy for Online Publishers

Publication advertisers should take that advice to heart. Gaining the attention of prospects by annoying them has got to be a suboptimal approach.

We publishers need to take heart, too. If readers experience ad-generated annoyance whenever they read our publication, consumer feelings of aversion may transfer to the publication itself as well. I know I avoid certain online news sources simply because I anticipate annoying advertising attempts to distract my attention from the actual content that interests me.

It is possible to be intrusive without being annoying. Forbes magazine has employed a technique that deserves attention. Here's how I've experienced it: I found a search result that pointed to an article in Forbes. I clicked on the link and was served a full-screen ad. But conspicuously placed at the top of the page was a link for navigating away from the ad and directly to the magazine page of interest. That left me in control of how much time I wanted to spend with the ad and offered a means to go directly to the article. What's more, when I went on to read another article, I was not served the ad again; I just got the article.

My experience on this site was one that was free of annoyance. That in turn actually encouraged me to spend time on the ad page on my next visit, knowing that I wouldn't be subjected to the ad content beyond the extent of my interest.

Intrusive Print Ads

So far I've only discussed examples of online advertising annoyance. Last month I saw an example of the phenomenon in a print publication. Generally speaking, readers are accustomed to a significant percentage of a magazine or newspaper being devoted to advertising. Display ads are easy to scan, read, or skip -- whichever you choose to do. But then I saw a magazine that contained a significant amount of native advertising content. I found it problematic to scan and read that issue.

The native ad content was all identified as such. Nonetheless, I encountered a problem. When I just wanted to scan the articles, it took longer because differentiating between articles and ads required more attention. It took a lot of work on my part to deal with this issue because of all the native advertising. I found that annoying. There was also a less appealing through-the-book visual experience, probably a result of typographic and design inconsistencies. As a result, I just gave up and discarded the magazine. Maybe that was just an idiosyncratic reaction on my part. But if not, native advertising in magazines may not turn out to be the great future hope its proponents are claiming it will be.

So, indeed, is running intrusive ads good business? My analysis is that it may produce some short-term results for advertisers and bring revenues to your publication as a result. But there are some long-term considerations that should give publishers pause before they accept ad content that will sour readers to their publications. That would be a bad business outcome.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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Sponsored Magazine Content on Social Media

Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 1:19 PM

In the news: More and more magazines are tapping into Instagram, Snapchat, and other social networks to deliver ad content.

For years, Facebook and Twitter have commanded the magazine social media conversation. Now, other networks are stepping up to the plate as viable platforms for sponsored magazine content. "Publishers have long used Twitter or Facebook to share links to the sponsored content they host on their own sites, but recent efforts on Instagram and Snapchat show that these media companies are retooling native advertising to actually live partly on social platforms," writes Michael Sebastian in a November 13 AdAge.com piece.

Most recently, Wired magazine has launched a campaign featuring an engaged couple who has attracted scores of Instagram followers with their travel pictures. The pair promotes apparel brand and Wired sponsor Victorinox on Instagram and in the print edition. Just how successful have these efforts been? According to Sebastian, the campaign has generated "more than 65,000 'likes' on Instagram and roughly 500 comments in its initial phase." Read more here.

Also Notable

The Sponsored Content Debate Continues

In a recent PBS Mediashift article, "We Need a New 'Church and State' in Digital Publishing," Jason Kint discusses a reimagining of the publisher versus advertiser relationship. "In the new reality," he writes, "it's not the re-building of a crumbled wall between editor and publisher that's needed but the raising of a new kind of wall, one which separates click-bait from bona fide content." Noting that "the line between media and marketer has already blurred," he calls for the digital content industry to focus on creating quality content (be it native advertising or otherwise) and to avoid engaging in more underhanded click-garnering practices. Read his analysis here.

CNET in Print

Popular tech website CNET is expanding its reach in a surprising way: with a new print magazine. The magazine will feature advertising from various automotive and tech brands. CNET will create unique content for the print magazine to distinguish it from the website. Says the New York Times: "The arrival of CNET in print is indicative of a trend: Brands that began digitally are turning every day into #ThrowbackThursday by adding versions in traditional forms." Read more about the brand's foray into print periodicals here.

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