Internet Advertising Best Practices: Five Rules to Brand By

Good companies that rely on direct marketing test everything. When they send out a direct mail piece, for example, they test envelope size and color, different pitches and offers, and dozens of other elements to achieve a combination that has the best effect against different targets.

These companies have quantitative ways to gauge effectiveness. It’s pretty simple (at least to describe): The marketing pieces that acquire, convert, and/or help retain the most number of profitable customers in a test are considered the most successful and are used on a large scale.

Some companies, and the agencies that service them, apply these principles to Internet advertising. They test various combinations of banner size, color, and layout to get the best behavioral response. The combinations that are most successful in terms of click-through and customer acquisition are used with increasing weight as a campaign goes on.

Sometimes, results can turn into experience and benchmarks, answering questions like: Do “tricky banners” work for us? Do we get a good response with the color red? What size banners get the best click-through? Companies and agencies can develop best practices that work best for them.

But Internet advertising does not live by clicks alone. Tom Hespos, ClickZ’s very own Internet visionary, has very effectively argued that click-through rate can be a very poor metric for gauging marketing success. Tom, being the helpful and knowledgeable guy that he is, has described tools that can measure the attitudinal, or branding, impact of Internet advertising.

The good news is that these branding metrics are starting to allow us to understand what types of brand advertising have the most effect on the Internet, and starting to point to some best practices in making Internet ads effective, regardless of whether people click or not.

Last week was a milestone in Internet advertising research. Representatives from Dynamic Logic, AdRelevance, and 24/7 Media presented a paper titled “The Five Golden Rules for Online Branding,” describing the characteristics of the most effective ad units in a small sample, as measured by Dynamic Logic’s AdIndex.

By analyzing the branding impact of 32 banners, based on 32,000 online surveys, the team found five attributes of Internet advertisements that made them most effective in driving brand awareness, purchase intent, and ability to associate a message with a product. Here they are:

  • Banner clutter. The team found that an excessive number of creative elements in a banner reduces its ability to raise brand awareness and banner recall. In other words, if branding is an objective, it’s best to keep banners simple.

  • Logo size. Results suggested that the bigger the logo in an ad, the more likely the advertisement will send a clear message to consumers.
  • Banner size. According to the report, bigger banners impact consumers more. The team recommends using larger-size banners when branding impact is an objective.
  • Frequency. Pretty intuitive: The more times people see an ad, the more likely it is to have an impact. The optimal number seems to change based on the industry and creative effectiveness, but results seem to indicate that a frequency of five impressions per target is the most efficient.
  • Presence of a human face. Results indicate that banners with a human face increased people’s interest in a product. Although the sample size (of banners) is very small, this result is consistent with some earlier studies in offline advertising.

What makes the report exciting, in my opinion, isn’t the five “Golden Rules.” It’s that we can now start to learn what works and what doesn’t in using Internet advertising to change people’s attitudes toward products.

The promise of Internet advertising has always been that it is more quantifiable than advertising offline. Being able to quantify the impact of branding, and eventually develop best practices that work best for us, is a great boon for our industry.

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