Study: Marketers Must Tweak Web Advertising to Boost Clickthroughs

The Ad Council is betting that marketers could all learn something from public service announcements. And no, it’s not the fact that only you can prevent forest fires.

The Advertising Council, the nation’s largest producer of public service advertising and the originator of such taglines and campaigns as “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” says that its extensive advertising experience can teach online marketers a thing or two about how to run effective banner ad campaigns.

The New York-based group recently ran a study of its own online advertising effectiveness and clickthrough rates, in conjunction with marketing communications firm Phase One. And as one of the largest online advertisers by Jupiter Media Metrix’s count — with about $402 million in donated media and 11 billion impressions served in 2000 — the study hinged on some pretty large-scale analysis.

As a result, the group says it and its agencies have developed, delivered and analyzed enough banner ads to know what achieves clickthroughs and what doesn’t.

And it might seem obvious, but cluttered, static and negative ads don’t — though advertisers and agencies keep churning them out.

“What we’ve learned is some basic lessons about the drivers of banner advertising,” said the Ad Council’s George Perlov, who is senior vice president of planning, research and foundation relations — and who previously worked at agencies including Dentsu and Lois/USA. “What you think would work in all communication models might not in the banner space.”

“In many cases … banners tend to be the last thing we think about,” he added. “Ad agencies put a lot more into television and print. In a lot of cases, they kind of think of banner ads as print or a billboard in small space. But there are specific elements and drivers that they really do need to pay attention to.”

Obviously, banner ads need to be enticing — but agency creatives need to be wary of cramming in too much.

“If they’re too busy with logos and over-design, they will turn people away from it,” Perlov said. “However, on the other side, if they’re very static, if there isn’t motion or energy or color contrast, that detracts from their effectiveness.”

The banner ad “functions sort of like a billboard does on the side of the road,” he said. “Like a billboard, we’re asking people to divert their attention. They came to the Internet not to look at banner ads, but to look for information and resources. So banner ads must grab their attention … but you don’t want to get too caught up in making the ad too” complicated.

One way around this, Perlov said, is to use the “tease” — inviting users to click for more information.

“The thing we found, is if we give too much information, if the ad is ‘self-contained,’ people are not going to click,” he said. “If you tease, get a little info going, they will. Obviously, they need to draw people’s attention, and this is a way of doing that.”

Perlov also said that the Ad Council has run into difficulties with “negative” messages — telling Web surfers not to do a particular thing, or emphasizing negatives, for instance. That kind of messaging, Perlov said, is associated with lower click rates.

“It applies a little more to social issues than general marketing, but one idea is a positive message, something that’s not going to turn people off,” he said. “Our issues are very serious … and [the opportunity exists for] people to turn away from it.”

“Similarly, a lot of product marketers will use a negative approach to get people — ‘if you don’t do this, this is going to happen’ … ‘If you don’t chew our gum, your teeth are not going to be … white.'”

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