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Will Annoying Ads Ruin Your Publication?

Posted on Monday, November 30, 2015 at 1:34 PM

Intrusive ads that drive readers away from your website may not be worth the revenue they bring in.

By William Dunkerley

Annoying ads are chasing your readers away. That's what a growing body of research and analysis is showing. What publisher would want to drive away its audience? Yet many publications, especially those online, are serving annoying ads to their readers. It's about time we look into this issue seriously and develop strategies that will produce better results.

Two Ad Factors That Annoy Readers

What makes an ad intrinsically annoying? That will, of course, vary from one audience to another. But there are two main principles to consider:

1. Ads that are of little interest to readers will annoy.

This is especially the case with online magazines. In print publications it is relatively easy to skip past an ad of little interest. It's just a matter of flipping a page or glancing at a different location on a page. Nonetheless, a well-strategized publication will look at its advertisements as a form of content aimed at reader interests. If the content interests readers, those readers will be glad it's there. Some of the most successful publications I've seen are reluctant to allow ads outside the areas of audience interest. Indeed, some publications have readers who value the information they get from the ads as much as they value the editorial content.

But in an online environment things can be different. Often the decision as to which ads are served is made by an algorithm or some outside agency. Rather than pairing ads with audience in an enlightened way, the job is done automatically based on metrics. Here's an example of what I mean: I pretended I was looking for a good magazine to read that doesn't cost too much. I entered the search term "hunting good deals on good magazines." Well, as you can probably guess, I was served ads and other results related to the sport of hunting.

2. Ads that are intrusive and hard to avoid will annoy.

This applies to print as well as online. A print magazine that is overburdened with clumsy inserts and cards can be annoying. Online publications ratchet that up to a new level, however. Auto-start videos off to the side, ads that blanket the screen and are hard to turn off, pop-ups, and mandatory visuals that a reader must sit through before gaining access to the editorial content are among the key annoyances. The burgeoning availability of new and better ad-blocking apps attests to how much consumers detest these intrusive forms of advertising.

A recent Fortune magazine article was titled, "Ads Are Annoying. So What Does the Ad Industry Do About It?" The article by Erin Griffith shares ad industry objections to the practice of ad blocking. The article says:

"Ad-industry execs are well aware that ad blocking is bad for business. But they also know that consumers have whole-heartedly welcomed software that blocks invasive, annoying ads. Ad-blocking apps dominated the Apple's App Store the day they were added."

The article quotes several ad industry executives who explain how ads "power their businesses and livelihoods."

"Ad blocking, they said, is not just a threat to their sites, it's a threat to what makes the Internet great. What makes the Internet great, apparently, is the ability for anyone to publish something and monetize it with ads. 'It's very disruptive to this ecosystem and it's a threat to what is the promise of the Internet, the power of the Internet to give a voice to the [small niche businesses].'"

Are Advertisers Missing the Mark?

These guys just don't seem to get it. The reason audiences are seeking countermeasures against intrusive ads is because they don't value the ads. Unfortunately, some in the ad industry believe that the answer to that is to find ways to defeat the ad blockers so readers can find no escape. Does that make as little sense to you as it does to me? A more sensible approach would be to produce ads that are more attuned to reader interests and needs.

This assault by advertisers on reader sensibilities can be shown to have a negative financial impact on publishers.

Science Daily highlights a new study in the Journal of Marketing Research "that suggests that this way of forcing customer's attention may actually be bad for business." It explains:

"Annoying ads are interesting because they both make and cost money for publishers. They make money because advertisers pay publishers to run ads. They cost money when annoyed users abandon a site, leaving the publisher with less advertising revenue."

A paper appearing in ACM SIGecom Exchanges adds, "Display advertisements vary in the extent to which they annoy users. While publishers know the payment they receive to run annoying ads, little is known about the cost such ads incur due to user abandonment."

Writing in the September 14, 2015, issue of Advertising Age, Ken Wheaton opines:

"The consumer is in control! Remember that rallying cry from the first decade of this century? The advertising industry goes through so many fads so rapidly, you'd be forgiven for forgetting.

"As it turns out, consumers are still in control -- perhaps even more so. Not only are they cutting cords and spurning print and skipping ads on TV, they're now screwing up the Internet and mobile advertising ecosystems. The promise of a hyper-targeted, data-fueled ad environment that would allow marketers to see their goods and publishers to squeeze some dimes out of digital? It's suffering from banner blindness just like earlier ads and, if recent reports are to be believed, an explosion in the use of ad-blocking technology.

"The in-control consumer apparently has an insatiable appetite for professional, expensive content (and, let's face it, a lot of cheap garbage too), but not much love for the advertising that foots the bill."

A Better Approach

"Not much love for the advertising." That's really the takeaway from this. Instead of advertisers trying to force feed readers ads that are neither interesting nor helpful, it would be better if they would focus more on understanding what kinds of advertising consumers are interested in seeing and filling that need.

And it would be better if publishers would better protect their franchise with their own readers. Going along with wrongheaded advertising isn't really helping anyone in the long run. You're wasting your advertisers' money and trying your readers' patience. If you tick off your readers with annoying ads, think of what's in store for you!

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

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