New Ad Formats Without the Clutter

Each and every time I surf the Web, I can’t help but be reminded of just how cluttered the Internet landscape has become. Once, sites were limited to a handful of banner-style ad formats that assumed standard positions and were relatively unassertive. These formats now vie for eyeballs in a virtual ad jungle. It seems as though every space that could possibly be used is populated with an ad.

Many analysts have commented on online ad clutter in recent months, warning how this can decrease effectiveness of individual ads. In eliminatring certain ad formats from their properties, some publishers are working toward reducing clutter for the benefit of their users and advertisers alike. Publishers are aware of the negative impact ad clutter has on clients’ campaigns (hence, their own profitability). They are working to reverse the problem, so one would think introducing new placements would be a thing of the past. Yet, publishers are finding ways to add placements without adding to the clutter. It’s simply a matter of adding space.

I recently visited iVillage and decided to participate in one of its online quizzes. After supplying answers and clicking “submit” to receive my score, I found myself face to face with an iVillage branded pop-up (not to be confused with a third-party pop-up ad, which the site recently banned). The window featured a loading bar, indicating it would take about 10 seconds to deliver the requested page and close the window. Right below that bar was a static button promoting an advertiser.

The placement is part of a sponsorship opportunity iVillage calls the Interquizzal Sponsorship System. Advertisers sponsor a quiz in a chosen content channel. They receive the pop-up placement plus a standard banner and skyscraper on the quiz and results pages. iVillage says the package, introduced a few months ago, has been well received by both advertisers and users. Interesting, considering an overwhelming 92.5 percent of the same audience calls pop-ups “the most frustrating feature of the Web.”

I suppose one could argue this placement is intrusive or annoying. It is a pop-up, after all. Can it really be compared to pop-ups we’re accustomed to seeing? It’s not disrupting a user’s experience, as that experience is temporarily suspended while the user awaits conclusion of an action. It doesn’t interfere with content in a negative way, as the user clearly finished interacting with the content (an online quiz).

What about adding to site clutter? Because this time-filling placement serves a purpose other than simply promoting a product and because the ad appears in an iVillage-branded window and displays an association with this trusted site property, I’d bet it wouldn’t be tagged a culprit. Even if users perceived it as a typical placement, the pages on which it appears have only two other ads at most, both inoffensive banners. One, above the fold, is no longer visible once the user scrolls down to complete the quiz. Studies have produced varying results when it comes to determining just how many ads constitute a cluttered page. Certainly, these pages don’t seem overwhelming.

In creating this placement, iVillage demonstrates resourcefulness in making something from nothing without disturbing the user. Also, it understands its advertisers’ needs. iVillage takes advantage of a few free seconds and some underutilized space to provide people with something to look at when they aren’t otherwise engaged. The 10 seconds it supposedly takes for the results page to load may be a false delay, but what better time to promote a product to attentive consumers? Other publishers are advised to take a fresh look at their own properties for hidden prospects.

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