November 24, 2014

Display Advertising Is Poison

Display advertising is ugly and infuriating. It never stops. It never leaves us alone. It is ubiquitous and toxic. It is polluting the web.

About 30% of online ad dollars are spent on display advertising. But display is responsible for about 100% of the maddening stupidity and annoyance of the web.

As a general rule, things that are successful expand. But it is the opposite with display ads.

Because they are so ineffective we get more and more of them. The rate of clicking on banner ads is so tiny, that for a media genius to deliver the 100 clicks she promises a client she has to buy over 100,000 impressions.

And so, in trying to achieve goals, an enormous amount of ads must be bought. And splattered all over everything we are trying to do online.

Also, because they are so ineffective, they are ridiculously cheap. And they keep getting cheaper. The result is that every creepy company in the world can afford these things and annoy the shit out of us with them.

When you watch a TV program you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 minutes of entertainment for your 8 minutes of annoying advertising.

Online the ratio is reversed. You often get six or seven display ads for your one page of "content." (By the way, Facebook is one of the few sites starting to show a little restraint by upping their ad rates and running fewer ads.)

I am an ad guy and I know that advertising provides us with a whole lot of free entertainment and information that most people don't appreciate. While I may find a lot of advertising annoying, and most forms of online advertising misguided, I don't hate them. But I hate fucking display ads.

Display has become the dregs of advertising. If being ugly and stupid isn't bad enough, the whole culture of the display industry is corrupt and infested with creeps, charlatans, and crooks.

Display is poison and it needs to be reformed.


Samuel Scott said...

Bob, display advertising by itself indeed gets comparatively little. However, display coupled with intelligent remarketing can actually get good results.

In case you're not familiar with the practice, remarketing is "those ads that follow you around the Internet." If someone visits a company's website, then that company can use a tracking cookie from a platform such as Google AdWords to show that company's ads to that exact individual on any website he visits later that carries that platform's ads (for, say, thirty days).

Yes, it's creepy -- I'm a digital marketer, and I'm disturbed by it. But here's the thing: it works. Despite people saying that they hate it, it works. I don't want to post any links and risk being seen as a spammer, but simple searches can find the data out there.

When the right audience -- and selecting the right audience is key -- is "tagged," the ROI is tremendous.

KL said...

Retargeting creates its own problems because it follows a search or visit, instead of anticipating the likely audience (contextual). There very much needs to be an "I already bought it, go away" button so I don't have to be retargeted for something I'm no longer interested in for the month or so of nonresponsiveness before the cookie dies.

steakandcheese said...

The cure for the poison is called Adblock. I use it on chrome and I haven't seen a preroll ad or any banner for years now.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

Combine it with Ghostery and tell the data-mavens to go eff themselves completely.

steakandcheese said...

Didn't know about that one. Thanks!

Adcabreras said...

Assuming you saw Google's trial? How many of us would be willing to pay a subscription to not see ads?

dmarti said...

Bob, you forgot "infected with computer viruses."

Why Malvertising Is Cybercriminals’ Latest Sweet Spot

dmarti said...

I seriously thought about signing up, but I ended up deciding against it.

bob hoffman said...

I signed up and am on waiting list. I want to see what they are doing

bananasforbannerads said...

Hi Bod,

A couple of quick points:
I have run trials for a large national supermarket that tracks effectiveness of display advertising to drive demand. This has been done through in-store sales tracked by their in-store loyalty program (which is how we targeted the ads in the first place). These trials have been run against control groups. Results have been trialled against multiple target audiences on multiple occasions. They outcome of these trials is that they do work in driving in-store sales. The supermarket in question's online sales make up only around 1% of their trade so click to online conversion don't matter to them, in-store sales matter to them.

To draw a parallel to outdoor ads or press - you cannot click on them and that does not mean they are worthless - a large format ad on the home page of a national news site telling me that bananas are $3.99 a kg will not get me to click on that banner and do a one hour long supermarket online shop. However it will get me to choose between two bricks and mortar supermarkets that are across the road from each other if I want to buy cheap bananas.

LeShann said...

The problem with performance optimiziation is that you're inevitably focusing on low hanging fruit consumers - most often existing or already convinced. I'm not saying it's useless, but display could be such a high reach channel if it was sold and KPId properly, limiting it to this is terrible.

Personally I have my qualms with display, but I also believe it could be done right - and I have seen campaigns where it worked (a lot of the effectiveness is down to the creative).

Samuel Scott said...

How would you sell and KPI display ads, then? Curious.

LeShann said...

The two biggest issues of (online) display are visibility and duration: was the ad within view and was it there more than a glimpse of a second. The easier thing to introduce is visible reach (ie calculating reach only on visible impressions), which can already be done, and buying on a cost per visit rather than per click or conversion. Click has the issue of counting the mistakes and conversion mostly focus on a consumer who's potentially quite involved already. Visits are a lesser evil when trying to measure the action (we also add on site time spent to evaluate the quality of the traffic).

The second thing, which would require a deep overhaul of the online ad industry, is to adopt a time of impression buying KPI, eg you buy x seconds of impressions, not just the fact your tracking tag has been called. This requires a different approach to the way we serve the ads as well as it invites a new way of coding the display of advertising.

Technically mobile in app ads work pretty well because they naturally overcome these issues: they are visible at all times, and rotate on a time basis. The problem with mobile ads is that a lot of the creative material is terrible.

The bottom line is that banners don't have to be annoying or click driven or intrusive to work, but we can't just look at CPM/CPC/CPA to get there, these are myopic metrics.

Guy Swarbrick said...

Who cares it it works? You can measure it!