Breaking Through Web Site Clutter

Web advertising is beginning to remind me of my messy living room.

My living room is a thrown-together mishmash of different objects that compete for attention. There’s the computer over on the far wall, a television on the left wall, a fish tank, various musical instruments, and a stereo. Each piece of junk that I add to my living room becomes another thing that competes for my attention.

Think of your web ads in the same way. With all the quantitative research we make use of in formulating our interactive ad plans, sometimes we overlook some of the qualitative aspects of the sites on which we advertise. When we make a decision to advertise on a given site, one of the most important things to consider is how cluttered the site environment is.

If my living room had only a television and a couch in it, my time spent in that room would most likely be taken up by a lot of TV. However, add a Playstation to that mix, and it gives me another option. Maybe now I spend 50 percent of my time watching TV and 50 percent playing video games.

Take a look at some of the web pages on which you advertise. Not only do you have to compete for attention with all of the content offerings on that page, but you also must compete with other advertisers. For illustration purposes, let’s take a look at the home page of Excite. In running an ad on that page, you would have to compete with:

  • The search box

  • Several dozen text links to various content offerings
  • A 190×35 ad banner
  • The stock sponsorship on the left side of the page

Does this seem like a lot? Actually, agencies place advertising on pages that are a lot more cluttered than this. Tech-related sites are infamous for this sort of thing – multiple advertisers per page, multiple ad units, tiny text links, pop-up ads, and more. How can an advertiser compete for attention among all this stuff? It’s no wonder that sidebar ads (also referred to as “skyscrapers”) are becoming more popular – they take up enough real estate to attract some real attention.

This got me thinking: I’ve always had terrific results with tier-three media properties that are less saturated by advertising than their tier-one counterparts. Maybe part of this can be attributed to a less-cluttered environment?

If you don’t do this already, perhaps you should consider overall clutter as a factor in your media buy decision criteria. Before advertising with a site, take a look at some of the environments proposed by your sales rep, and ask yourself the following:

  • What other elements would I be competing with if I decided to advertise here (not just other ads, but content as well)?

  • How can I use my creative to break through the clutter? Maybe a rich media ad might help?
  • Can I propose a more effective creative unit?
  • Is there simply too much here to compete with? Can I fight a successful battle for attention on this page?

In a world where consumers on their way to work are assaulted with outdoor ads from every angle and are similarly addressed by radio, television, and print, shouldn’t we make every effort to find uncluttered environments online so that our messages can actually get through?

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