The Collective Consumer Impression of Online Ads

I have a digital addiction. It isn’t Facebook or Twitter; surprisingly, it comes in the form of a daily e-mail.

Every day, I receive an HTML message from Groupon, a city-specific opt-in service that delivers a new deal from a local restaurant, spa, bike shop, movie theater, and the like. If a designated number of consumers sign up for the bargain (for example, a $50 coupon for a dinner worth $75, or rooftop seats for a Chicago Cubs game for a third of the regular price), everyone gets the deal. Groupon calls it “collective buying power.”

Collective buying power has been hard at work elsewhere online, though perhaps not in such a transparent fashion. It’s apparent in the way consumers are responding to and using online ads. It seems they might finally be beginning to see the value in digital ads, and understand how to leverage them for their personal benefit.

For years, marketers have struggled to convince Internet users that we ultimately have their best interests in mind — because if we aren’t delivering targeted, relevant ads in an engaging way, we aren’t going to get results. Now, they could be coming around to the novel notion that they have as much power over those ads in the way they choose to interact with them as we do when we create and deploy them.

There’s some evidence of this on Facebook, where users have been accessing what the site calls its “Ad Board.” Members can find the page, which acts as a central depository for Facebook ads, by clicking on the “More Ads” link below the text ads on the right.

The page is always available, and its ad content is always being updated. So if someone misses an interesting ad due to a page refresh or a hasty click away, the person can hunt it down on the Ad Board to get another look.

Let’s set aside for a moment the issue that the Ad Board’s existence could potentially be injurious to Facebook advertisers who might see a small decrease in their CTRs (define) as their ads go head to head with competitors on the page. Because the Ad Board represents something important, something that’s bigger than a single campaign, it indicates that consumers want to see our ads when they’re relevant to their interests and needs, and that they’re willing to actively seek them out to explore our product offerings further.

And why shouldn’t they want to review what’s available to them? Facebook ads run the gamut from special offers to discounts and freebies, all of which are targeted to each Facebook user based on profile information, while other ads we find online offer incredible and immersive entertainment experiences.

It’s this kind of relevance and excitement that, over time, has chipped away at consumers’ reluctance to appreciate online ads. They no longer assume that the ads they’ll see on the Web will be irrelevant and annoying. Actually, it’s quite the opposite; increasingly, users expect the ads that find them to be appropriate to their lifestyles, compelling, and memorable.

That’s a tall order for marketers to fill. We have plenty of technology at our disposal: behavioral targeting, demographic targeting, contextual marketing, and retargeting all allow us to match our ads with consumers who are most likely to respond to them. But there’s more we can do to ensure that we connect with consumers through our ad placement, messaging, and creative.

Make Your Ads Available to Those Who Want to Find Them

Take a cue from Facebook and consider creating a page on your brand or product site that houses ads from your current campaign. Giving consumers a chance to find and engage with them outside the confines of a third-party site and in the context of your brand might actually increase your interaction rates and could expand your reach by attracting consumers who might otherwise have missed them. Your analytics reports might reveal some surprising results about how many potential customers actively choose to view your ads in your brand environment.

Boost Your Chances of Being Viewed Positively

Partner with sites that deliver quality content and have a loyal audience of followers. Studies show that user experience influences the way consumers view the brands that advertise on search engines and portals. The better their relationship with the site, the better their relationship with your brand through your ads.

Give Consumers Power Over the Ad Experience

Let your users control how and when they interact with your ad (mouse to expand, click to play video, click to adjust volume, and so on). Always enable them to easily replay the message, or repeat the ad’s action, such that they feel they’re standing at the helm of your campaign.

Collectively, our target audience is slowly warming up to online ads and the newfound command of the ad experience we’re increasingly affording them. They’re wielding their power to roll, expand, click, and buy more aggressively than ever. If we can put relevant offers and imaginative creative in front of them and remind them that they’re in control, we might actually put an end to the enduring adversarial relationship between media buyer and Internet user.

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