For much of its short history, online advertising has been seen solely as a vehicle for direct response. The reason is simple: Behavioral metrics such as click-throughs, sign-ups, and purchases can be easily quantified, allowing for cut-and-dry evaluation and aggressive optimization.
There has always been something scientific about direct response advertising on the Web. Like direct mail, it relies on systems of testing that are very effective in driving response up and costs down.
Put It Out There
It’s fairly simple to determine whether an ad banner will garner a high level of response: Put it out there, and see how it does. Over the years, experienced direct response advertisers have developed best practices for advertising creative. A strong call to action, a compelling message, and high visibility all contribute to getting clicks, sign-ups, and sales.
But what kind of online creative is best for branding? Until recently the answer was to develop ads that followed the rules of offline advertising. Humor, punchy taglines, visual beauty, and high-tech “cool” were the main elements of developing branding creative for the Internet.
This sufficed when the word “branding” stood for “the banners nobody clicks on.” But now, with traditional advertisers demanding accountability for their online branding initiatives, agencies and publishers are asking themselves: What are best practices for branding on the Internet?
A key to answering that question is a recently published finding from the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists. It found that people look at online advertising banners for an average of one second. One second — that’s the time you have to communicate your message and convince people that your product is worth buying.
Call it the One-Second Law of Online Branding. Whether you are developing (or approving) ad banners, sponsorships, tiles, or buttons, make sure that a one-second glance over your creative would be enough to drive your message home.
Corollaries and Implications
This law has a number of corollaries.
First of all, throw subtlety out the window. If you are trying to build brand awareness, make the logo large, and put it in every frame of an animated unit. If you want to drive home a message, make it omnipresent — don’t make viewing it a game of chance.
Second, size matters. The new ad formats running on CNET and News.com are well suited for branding campaigns — they are LARGE. The bigger an advertisement is, the more likely that your customer or prospect will see it.
The One-Second Rule suggests a number of implications for media planning as well. Low-frequency caps minimize the likelihood that people will see your message and that it will make an impact. And finding the right spot for your advertisement, where people are likely to glance over it, is very important.
Plan Well, and It’ll Work
My friend Tom Deierlein likes to say that half of online advertising will always be below average. I guess most of the time he does have logic on his side. But most well-planned online branding campaigns I have seen have been a success.
If we apply discipline to the craft, and a little common sense, it can only get better.