How would you like it if you turned on your TV and saw a commercial that made you think your TV was broken?
That's what happened to us the other day. We were surfing the web (for what else - information), and came upon a web site that had a banner ad smack dab in the middle of the home page. It looked like an error box with the words "Search speed is too low. Choose to fix or blast off." Panicking, we pushed the fix button, and were transported to another site - unable to navigate back to the site we had wanted to visit in the first place. We'd been duped. It was a stupid advertisement!
So who is the loser here? The site visitor, the site itself or the advertiser?
As site visitors, we were annoyed at the host site for posting a misleading ad. By whisking us away from the site, the ad prevented us from using this site unless we found our way back.
The advertiser didn't create any good will with us, either. In fact, we didn't even bother to look at the advertiser's site, because we were so annoyed. We also felt like fools... Would you buy anything from a company that made you feel foolish?
When we complained to the site owner about this, he was sympathetic. But more than half of his advertising revenue comes from that one, annoying banner. Refusing to post it would create an economic hardship. As a partial response to our complaint, he posted this disclaimer under the offending banner: "The above is an advertisement."
This helps, but we'd rather see him work with the advertiser to create an ad that is a win-win situation for all.
"Much like television advertising corresponds to the audience demographic watching the show, and print advertisements correspond to the look and feel of the publication-at-large, web site ads should follow suit," says Grant Rosenberg, a writer who creates content for several Chicago-based web sites.
Not too long ago, a client of ours was given a banner to post on its home page that looked simply dreadful. The images and type were too small, and the colors clashed with our client's home page design. On our advice, the client rejected the ad, sending the advertiser gently back to the drawing board. The advertiser's next ad was 100 percent better.
Every site that accepts advertising should have standards that go beyond just size specifications.
America Online has an informative page explaining its advertising policy at: http://mediaspace.aol.com/creative_advertising_banner.html. If you visit that page, you find detailed descriptions and graphic examples of advertising that AOL considers acceptable or not acceptable for its sites.
AOL's policy begins with this warning:
"Advertisements may not mislead viewers into thinking that the advertisement is AOL content or functionality, rather than an advertisement. This standard is similar in concept to standards prohibiting issue advertisements, infomercials or infotisements from being presented such that the viewer or reader believes that the content is news, rather than advertising."
You may not feel the need for such a lengthy or detailed policy on your site. This sentence might be adequate to get the point across: "The site owner has the right to reject advertising that does not conform to his/her aesthetic standards."
For hints on what works and what doesn't, take a visit to Tribune Interactive, a division of the Chicago Tribune (click on "Advertising Elements" in the left-hand menu). You'll also find helpful technical specifications for site advertising ranging from banners to right-rail ads.
Take a close look at a lot of popular web sites, and you'll have a hard time finding creative acceptance policies for banner advertising. Be a leader. Set high standards for what you'll accept on your site. Maybe the rest of the Internet will follow your example.
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Jonathan Lehrer and Sara Marberry are principals of The Web Audit Group, a strategic web marketing consultancy in Evanston, Illinois.
Jonathan is a former Vice President of Public Affairs for the AAA-Chicago Motor Club, where he was the Chief Media Spokesman and Editor of the membership magazine, Home & Away. While at AAA-CMC, he was recognized for excellence in public affairs programming. Before leaving AAA-CMC to establish his own consulting practice, he led the initial development of the club's web site. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara has been a marketing communications consultant for more than 10 years. Prior to that, she was Editor of Contract Design magazine, a trade publication read by more than 30,000 architects and interior designers. Sara has been developing web sites for clients for several years, and is the Editorial Webmaster for The Center for Health Design's site at www.healthdesign.org. She can be reached at email@example.com.