Study: Ad Clutter Hurts Effectiveness

Consumers miss out on advertising branding messages when the ads appear in cluttered Web pages, according to a new study by Web research firm Dynamic Logic.

While few are likely to be surprised at that news, the New York-based research group now has hard numbers detailing the amount that cluttered Web pages — that is, sites packed to the gills with graphics, text and especially other ads — detract from branding.

Based on a series of surveys conducted on, researchers found that only 57 percent of consumers could effectively recall the ads they had seen on a site they described as cluttered — down from 65 percent with an uncluttered page.

The fact that cluttered page design can stifle brand effectiveness by 8 percent — or about a twelfth of the medium’s apparent maximum (65 percent) brand awareness potential — comes as validation for the few publishers working to sell exclusive placements to advertisers.

The New York Times Digital’s, for instance, recently began offering ad packages that gives a single advertiser exclusive control over all of the ad inventory for a user’s visit to the site — the so-called “session” model.

A smattering of other online media players have followed suit, while a few have, since last year, been selling the larger Interactive Advertising Bureau-sized ads as page-exclusive placements.

However, for Web publishers eager to optimize their ad inventory by slimming down or redesigning their site, a solution is likely to remain frustratingly elusive. Models featuring one ad or advertiser per page are still relatively new. And in many cases, it’s an experiment that only a major media player can afford to test, since reducing pages’ ad units also reduces the number of impressions that a site can serve.

“Especially as the number of sites seem to be paring down … there’s the chance, potentially, to end up with homepages for a lot of these big publishing companies that wind up being cluttered,” said Molly Hislop, director of research and development at Dynamic Logic. “That would hurt their ability to deliver to the advertiser what they promised to do.”

There’s more worrisome news, as well. The survey also found that the definition of “cluttered” isn’t necessarily universal. Indeed, attempts by Dynamic Logic’s analysts to define cluttered and uncluttered pages proved largely fruitless, with survey respondents remembering ads in both configurations relatively well.

“I caution publishers not to just assume that they understand or believe that one page is cluttered while another isn’t,” Hislop said. “Consumers may feel quite differently.”

As a result, the apparent unpredictability of how consumers define cluttered media seem to call for greater end user input, or even that tried-and-true marketing tool: the focus group.

“Don’t try to make those decisions based on what you think yourself,” Hislop added. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and [publishers] need to spend time interacting with users, with survey-type research or focus groups or usability research.”

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