Advertiser Directories: The Key to Successful Online Ads

Critics might not like to hear it and marketers might sometimes forget it, but it’s a fact: consumers care about advertising. Without it they wouldn’t be as in the know about new products and services or as informed about where to find what they need to live, work, and play.

Advertisers start trends, define cultural movements, and fuel subcultures. They contribute to the substance and beauty of virtually every form of media. The right ad for the right product in the right place at the right time can be as welcome and appreciated as the editorial content most people assume is more likely to hold a consumer’s attention.

For the most part, ads are easy to find (now there’s an understatement). That doesn’t mean consumers are always able to find what they’re looking for. If only I had a dollar for every time I caught a glimpse of an interesting banner just as I was clicking off a page, to search for it in vain (curse tight frequency caps). I can only imagine consumers are doing the same.

Take a look at the traditions engrained in print media, if you aren’t certain. In addition to source guides, many magazines now feature directories of participating advertisers complete with each company’s contact information and Web site address. Publications built on highlighting product trends, like fashion, bridal, and home décor titles, are particularly mindful to deliver the advertising information their readers seek.

You could call this an attempt by editors to stroke their advertisers’ egos, were it not for evidence that this custom isn’t just being sustained, it’s evolving. Recently, “Architectural Digest” magazine launched a new marketing Web site that features design and architecture content from the magazine, along with advertiser programs, product information, contests, and sweepstakes. There’s even an advertiser source list to make it easier for consumers to find their dream sectional sofa or marble tiles.

Such promotional sites are increasingly common, CondéNet (the online arm of “Architectural Digest” publisher Condé Nast) says. The marketing sites aren’t typically measured, and there are no traditional online ad units. They do, however, contain paid content and special advertising features that originated in the magazines. They’re also a way for editors to avoid further blurring the lines between editorial content and advertising, to maintain credibility by upholding that sacred separation between church and state for their readers’ benefit.

This format works well for consumers. They’re exposed to the ads in print form in a contextually relevant environment. It’s their prerogative if and when they want to seek out additional information from a source guide or marketing site like that of “Architectural Digest.”

Compare that to the Web, where we purchase relevant placements but require consumers to take immediate action by clicking if they want to find out more. This interrupts the flow of media consumption and is probably preventing a good many users from being more responsive to our ads.

Print media has one up on us both in the convenience and respectfully reserved availability of advertising they deliver to magazine readers. Advertiser information is there when they need it, whenever that might be. In both media advertising is prominent, but online once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Research routinely shows magazine ads are well received by consumers. A recent Dynamic Logic survey finds that consumers have a very positive or somewhat positive reaction to print advertising (53 percent combined), compared with just 24 percent for online formats. Relevance was cited as one of the factors at play, but couldn’t it go deeper than this to consumers’ perception of the more restrained way in which advertisers are presented to them in print?

Comparing print and online advertising certainly isn’t like comparing apples to apples, but the approach the offline medium has taken to delivering advertising does bring up an interesting question: is it time to universally adopt advertiser directories online? In addition to making advertising information more available to consumers on their own terms, might doing this remove some of the pressure Internet users feel from online ads? Would knowing they weren’t required to click immediately to get product information change the way they view potentially disruptive banner ads?

I’d venture to say advertiser directories could be the ticket to turning consumer perception of our advertisers around, improving our results in the process.

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