Coke Cut the Carbs and the Clutter

Last month, BURST! Media released results of a new study on page clutter’s effects on online ad effectiveness. To anyone who’s run an Internet marketing campaign, or spent any time online as a consumer, it shouldn’t be surprising consumers dislike site clutter. This aversion, of course, can result in a negative perception of an advertiser’s products and services.

According to BURST, just over 60 percent of survey respondents indicated a low tolerance for more than two ad units per site page. Fifty-one percent said they have a “less than favorable” opinion of advertisers whose messages appear on a cluttered page, and nearly 75 percent pay less attention to ads that appear on a page they perceive as cluttered.

This news doesn’t augur well for advertisers who patronize cluttered sites. But what are our options, if any? It isn’t feasible to transfer an entire media budget from cluttered sites to the handful of properties that make a conscious effort to keep their pages clean. These chosen few aren’t likely to fulfill the impression count our clients seek, and there’s a direct correlation between sites with limited ad units and sky-high rates.

Prohibiting ad network buys doesn’t make sense either. Though notorious for cramming their sites with ads, networks provide much needed mass inventory at an inexpensive price.

Some media buyers choose to solve the clutter dilemma by turning to rich media formats effective at reaping consumer attention. If you happened to visit MSN’s home page earlier this week, you saw a good example of this.

On Monday, the site traded its standard blue background for an equally familiar bright red one. On the right, a 300 x 250 Flash ad unit boasted evocative terms, animation, and audio and video clips, all designed to describe Coca-Cola’s newest product offering. It was a complete takeover; for one day only, MSN lived and breathed low-carb, low-calorie Coca-Cola C2.

We’ve come across product-branded home pages — called takeover advertising — before. In 2001, Pizza Hut ran a rich media takeover on Yahoo to promote its special $8.99 pie. Last year, Ford employed the “big three” portals — Yahoo, AOL, and MSN — to promote the Ford Expedition SUV. All three home pages featured various rich media ads and slogans.

Even Coke itself had taken over MSN before, though not to this degree. MSN’s C2-branded home page included product integration in the channel and navigation bars. Site programmers even changed font and hyperlink colors. The site was virtually redesigned to accommodate the advertiser’s brand.

Advertisers traditionally use takeover ads to capture a vast number of consumer eyeballs, particularly for a new product or offer. Only popular portals such as MSN can supply the traffic required to drastically boost online exposure.

But site dominance doesn’t come cheap. The Audit Bureau of Circulations affirms the MSN home page reaches more consumers in a day than the top seven national newspapers combined. Coupled with a 63.8 percent Internet audience reach and over 89 million unique users, MSN can essentially charge whatever it pleases.

Predictably, Coke won’t disclose what was spent on the buy. But PR director for the Coke trademark, Mart Martin, calls the C2 campaign “the largest product launch since Diet Coke 20 years ago.” According to Martin, the campaign required an “extraordinary amount of effort and resources.” The launch included prominent placements on the Yahoo home page, associated TV ads that debuted during the “American Idol” finals, and a massive offline sampling campaign.

“It’s about reaching a large number of folks in one fell swoop, reaching the masses with a big bang,” Martin says of the C2 MSN placement. “For our launch we took the idea of the ‘big event’ and made a lot of noise in a very big way for the maximum amount of impact over a period of time.”

Coke may have solved the clutter dilemma with its MSN takeover, but that’s certainly not a viable solution for the majority of online advertisers. To answer their needs, advertisers continue searching.

In the meantime, there will likely be more in store for Internet users as C2’s promotion continues throughout the summer. Now, if only the product could overcome the clutter on the supermarket shelves.

How do you overcome the negative effects of site clutter in your online campaigns? E-mail me with your experiences and tips.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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