Ad Clutter Rises – 5 Ways to Fight It

When the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced its Rising Stars Ad Units in 2011, digital marketers took notice. Culled from publisher, agency, and technology company submissions, the new rich media units were intended to improve the display ad experience. Since the initiative first ran, the IAB has branched out to digital video and mobile media, and marketers now have at their disposal a host of new validated formats with which to work.

While advertiser creativity and user engagement were top of mind for those involved in developing and approving the new units, so too was prominence. Web pages had become woefully cluttered with all manner of ad placement, format, and size, and the Rising Stars units promised a solution. Bigger ads like Pushdowns, Sidekicks, and Sliders would mean fewer ads per page, and that would mean higher interaction rates. In fact, the IAB’s research shows that consumers are two and a half times more likely to interact with a Rising Stars ad than a standard display ad, spend twice as much time with Rising Stars ads as standard formats, and react twice as quickly with mouse actions to the Rising Stars as to a standard banner.

So why are we still seeing so much clutter?

Visit a site at random and you’re likely to find it overwhelmed by ads. Leaderboards and rectangles compete with full-page interstitials, making it nearly impossible to focus on the page content itself. In this kind of environment brands can’t possibly achieve the level of prominence they desire. It’s a cacophony that puts the publisher at risk of offending and upsetting its users. And yet the IAB’s units still haven’t managed to gain traction. Some speculate it’s an issue of practicality; while many sites have already laid the groundwork for the units, new formats mean new resources, and rich media assets can be costly. Could brands just be slow to invest? Or perhaps the apparent delay comes down to campaign goals. Rich media ads aren’t for everyone.


Whatever the reason, the units aren’t taking off as quickly as we might have expected, and that leaves advertisers in a quandary. While we await the mass adoption of Rising Stars ads and what will surely be a marked decrease in page clutter, how can we ensure that ours stand out?

  1. Send a timely message. Ads that are specific to a season, holiday, or other timely cultural experience are more likely to garner consumer attention. Find ways to present your product or brand in the context of a current event.
  2. Avoid cheap tricks. Banners that flash, blink, or interrupt the site experience without the user’s permission might get attention, but not the kind you’re looking for. Stick with rich media that’s user-initiated.
  3. Get personal. Use dynamic rich media to give consumers relevant ads (ads, for example, that take into account a user’s current location or weather report). The more relevant the ad to a user’s personal circumstances, the more likely she is to take note.
  4. Know your audience. Consumers are more likely to sit through a home page takeover for a new blockbuster movie than they are for a new brand of weed killer. Understand what your customer wants from your business, and deliver it in a way that makes sense for your brand.
  5. Give users choices. Allowing site users to select the video ad they’d like to see from among several choices, or determining whether they’d like to watch a video in full after viewing a clip in a banner ad, puts the consumer in control. And that’s exactly where she wants to be.

There’s no telling when we’ll see a significant change in the way sites lay out their ads, but if the enthusiasm with which many major publishers and brands are already embracing Rising Stars is any indication, it won’t be long now. In the meantime, at least we know that there are ways to rise above the clutter on our own.

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