Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Advertising on the Web

The web has been a powerful resource for advertising in recent years, especially since the dawn of high bandwidth connections and high bit-rate images and video. Because of the new environment on the web for marketing and advertising, companies have had free reign to come up with the most clever ways to advertise. Innovations in web browser software as well as server software have allowed for various new ways to integrate advertising into the web browsing experience.

Advertising on the web is not a new issue, and at every stage of advancement there has been an ebb and flow in the advertising battle. With greedy advertisers, vigilante programmers, and even criminal hackers on one side, and industry leading software developers like Microsoft, Mozilla, Google, along with community upstarts creating ad-blocking technologies on the other. The battle continues today, with concessions from both sides, but where do we draw the line?

Today we have tools like ad-block and other popup and ad-blocking software, but I feel like it is a real problem when everyday people have to install and configure an extra program just to prevent being overwhelmed with blatantly intrusive advertising tactics. I feel like the majority of tech savvy web surfers will agree with me when I say that we are downright insulted by intrusive and subversive advertising, and feel these ads are having an opposite effect on us, making us less likely to visit a site, or buy a product.

These are the types of Advertising that are most prevalent, and represent the most problematic and detrimental types of advertising in existence on the web today:

Pop-Up Ads

Pop-Up ads consist of an advertisement window that "pops up" over the main browser window when you enter a site.

Pop-Up Ads have evolved over time, and include not only "new window" pop-ups, which open up a new window over the top of the browser window, but also a type of pop-up which creates an advertisement within the existing browser window that covers up underlying content.

Pop-Under Ads

Pop-Under ads are ads that appear underneath the main browser window, only to be revealed upon closing the browser window.

Pop-Under ads really fall into the subversive category, where advertisements are placed on the screen unbeknownst to the user until later. Some sites also use a timer to place many pop-under advertisements over time, and upon closing out of the site the user is left with several advertisement windows to close out of.


Interstitial ads are ads that are shown in the transition between two pages of a site.

The worst kind of Interstitial is the kind where we click a link, and arrive at the intended page. Just when we start looking at the content, a large usually full-screen advertisement covers our screen, sometimes even preventing us from clicking past it for a period of seconds.

Video Pop-Up Ads

Video Pop-Up ads are small advertisements which pop-up over the top of video content.

These advertisements are common on video sites like You-Tube, where a user begins watching a video, only to have the bottom section of the video become covered up by an advertisement which must be attended to by the user to close out.

Video Interstitials

Video Interstitials are essentially video commercials which play before the desired video is played.

These kinds of Video advertisements are familiar to people who commonly watch television, but to those who are more web oriented, these ads are some of the most repulsive and have a very high rate of cancellation (Users tend to give up on watching the intended video, deciding it is not worth watching unwanted content for 30 seconds)

Faux System Message

Faux System Messages are advertisements which are disguised as error or warning messages from the operating system, designed to fool novice computer users into clicking through to an undesired page.

Some of the most deceptive advertisements (if we can even call them advertisements) on the web today, faux system message ads are a subversive and predatory method for drawing in naive or inexperienced users. These ads commonly pull users into a scenario where they are deceived into buying software to protect their computer or into signing up for services unknowingly.


These types of ads might increase click-throughs to some degree, but a large portion of that is likely due to accidental clicks because of the ads being so subversively placed. There is also a rising percentage of web users who are becoming more and more comfortable with technology and browser software and are much more aware of subversive advertising tactics. Browser developers as well as 3rd-party ad-blocking software are also serving the interests of their customers by limiting and even completely filtering out advertising.

Advertisers don't realize that when an advertisement arrives in a fashion that is annoying or frustrating to the user, even if they don't consciously remember the brand or product in the ad, the user subconsciously make a negative attachment to that brand name. Just consider how powerful an effect that can have on people. When I am reminded of a particular brand, and I have a subconscious memory of that annoying pop-up ad, even without a conscious recollection, I now have a negative association with that brand.

Faux error message advertising is something that I feel should be illegal. Tricking users into clicking an advertisement because it looks like a Windows error dialog should be treated as deceptive and criminal. I feel this should be the case even with seemingly innocent ads that make a claim that the user has won a prize. I feel this is the case any time the user is being deceived by an advertisement, especially in the case of being lead to installing unwanted software, signing up for unwanted services, or buying unwanted products or subscriptions.

The rapidly rising trend in mentality of web users is one of disdain for intrusive and subversive advertisers. I will purposely avoid web sites and web pages which contain intrusive advertising, and when I come across those types of ads, I will remember those brands and purposely avoid buying their products or services. I think many web users will agree with me that consciously or not, we make a negative association with brands that use these kinds of ads. Advertisers need to realize that in this day and age, their tactics are having a reverse effect on a rapidly growing percentage of web users.

At the end of the day, I feel a new system of organization is needed for the web, and as that transition takes place with new software technologies and paradigms, one of the most important things to keep in mind is putting the user experience at the very top priority. We need a system that implements specific rules on advertising placement as well as convenient tools for users to opt-out of unwanted advertising wherever possible. Some of these tools are available today, and it is good to see that browsers are now including ad-block technology by default.

If you are an advertiser on the web, here are some suggestions for creating ads that are compelling and unobtrusive:

1) Do not intercede in the users intended navigation!

DO: Side-bar style banner advertisement along-side the intended content

DON'T: Interstitial ads that temporarily prevent the user from their intended link

(Keep the user in the drivers seat. Don't take them where they didnt intend to go.)

2) Do not cover-over the content the user is intending to see!

DO: Vertical banner ads on the sides or horizontal ads between sections of content.

DON'T: Intrusive Pop-up ads that cover the web page content

(If you must use Pop-up style advertisements, try to make them arrive on the screen in the peripheral screen space away from the content of the page.)

3) Be honest!

DO: Be up front with the product or service you offer. State your offer clearly.

DON'T: Use deceptive language or images just to grab attention.

(You might get more clicks by being deceptive with your ad, but first impressions are vital to your business! Don't insult your customer with deceptive or misleading ads!)

4) Use stylish ads that fit well with the page

DO: Coordinate the colors and theme of your ad with the content page.

DON'T: Use obscenely bright flashing colors or ridiculous images to try to attract attention.

(Users might notice your ad due to the shock value, but an advertisement that is clean, stylish, and fits the theme of the content is much more likely to lead to a satisfying experience for a customer who clicks through. A user who sees an ad like this regularly on their favorite site is also more likely to eventually click through, instead of turning on the blinders and totally ignoring it.)

5) Be involved with the community you advertise with!

DO: Set up a discount or a special benefit for customers from your leading click through sources.

DON'T: Blanket advertise often and everywhere so your ad gets the most views possible.

(Getting involved with the communities that your customers arrive at your page from gives them a good feeling. If your users come from, give them a welcome and offer them something special. Being appreciative of a community and giving recognition to that community works wonders in creating word of mouth residual click throughs, especially when you tailor your products and services to the interests of the community you advertise to. )

6) Don't be Evil!

DO: Be honest, be legitimate, be up front, and respect your customers!

DON'T: Be subversive, intrusive, deceptive, or downright evil with your advertising tactics.

(Google has it right! You might make a quick buck or garner lots of click throughs with tricks and marketing tactics or borderline legitimacy, but eventually you are going to push away all your customers and be thought of as a scammer, no matter how legitimate your actual business may be.)

Adblock add-on for Firefox