Pardon Me, Would You Care to View This Ad?

There’s a movement toward more-intrusive online advertising. Some of the newest and most popular formats resemble the interruption model that’s worked on TV for years.

Floating ads from Eyeblaster, United Virtualities, and others eclipse site content and demand attention. Superstitials pop up in separate windows. Several technology providers and publishers are toying more with ads that dominate an entire browser window as the user moves between content pages.

As I’ve written before, our experiments with these formats have yielded incredible results. Intrusive ads can perform well and have a place in the online media mix. But, it’s still important to consider users. With each new intrusive format, the collective voice of perturbed cybercitizens grows louder. How much further can we push it without having it blow up in our faces? We’ll need to strike a balance.

Not everyone is going intrusive. There’s another group of tech providers pushing banner ad enhancements and evolution. Bluestreak and Point&middotRoll are the biggest players in this segment. Eyeblaster recently announced new features that address this area by focusing on user-initiated ads. A recent test we ran prompts the addition of another entrant to the repertoire: Banner Console from iLOR.

Banner Console adds a small, DHTML-based console (unsurprisingly) to any existing banner ad. The console can be configured to appear on its own and then disappear, to show up on rollover, and so on. It provides three simple enhancements to a banner ad:

  • “Check ad later” pops open a daughter window containing a thumbnail version of the ad and offers other functionality, such as “add to bookmarks.” This allows the user to continue with whatever she was doing when the ad appeared and to return later.

  • “Check ad now, anchor here” clicks directly to the advertiser’s site but also pops open a daughter window containing a link back to the page on which the user was exposed to the ad.

  • “Open in new window” clicks to the advertiser’s site in a new browser window.

iLOR conducted extensive research and discovered (no big surprise here) many users don’t click on banners because they don’t want to be distracted from what they’re doing. Banner Console solves that by building in flexibility.

The results of our test program were impressive. Overall click rate (counting all clicks within the unit, including any repeat clicks) edged into double digits. Approximately one-third of all clicks were from unique users. In other words, two-thirds of those total clicks came from users experimenting with the Console by clicking on more than one link. I’d argue even this semi-repetitious interaction is valuable and should definitely be considered in the overall evaluation. Even if you prefer to ignore repeat clicks, cutting the number of clicks by two-thirds, you’re still looking at a click-through rate (CTR) approximately 15 times the industry average. I don’t know about you, but that makes me say, “Wow!”

Remember how the Internet was going to revolutionize the way business was done? It was going to completely change time-honored, tested advertising principles? The industry has scaled back that kind of chatter, and I don’t want to be the one to start it up again.

But think about what the Banner Console is doing. It’s effectively debunking the number-one principle of direct marketing: You need a strong call to immediate action. You must get the user to respond right away or risk losing them forever. In this sense, a lot of online advertising really isn’t all that different from offline direct marketing. If you’re running a direct response TV spot, you try to get the viewer to stop watching whatever program he’s watching and make a phone call (usually). With direct mail, you’re interrupting the consumer in some fashion and trying to get her to fill out a form or call a toll-free number. An online ad tries to pull the user away from site content to respond to your ad.

In each case, you want immediate response. Ever hear a TV spot say, “Call later”? What about a direct mail piece that reads, “Fill out the attached form or call 800.xxx.xxxx whenever you’re ready. No hurry. Please, finish whatever you were doing before you started reading this.”

That’s one functional component of Banner Console. It seems to be working. Roughly half the users who interacted with our console-enhanced banners chose the “check ad later” option.

We have one unanswered question from our initial test: It increases CTR, but does it help conversion rates (or whatever back-end metric you’re tracking)? That’s a critical question. The next phase of our test with Banner Console will grapple with that issue. The results will be interesting. I’d wager the data will indicate Banner Console is a winner.

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