Ads. They’re everywhere today. From the billboards you drive past on the way to work to the sponsored posts in your Facebook feed. Is it any wonder, then, people are increasingly immune to them?
"Consumers are becoming more desensitised," US advertising executive John Moore told Ad Age as far back as 2007. "They almost expect no place to be sacrosanct."
Indeed advertisers have largely spent the past eight years since Moore made those remarks finding new and clever places to put ads. Imagine how much time - and money - is being wasted when people don’t even notice them.
Numerous studies are conducted every year to try and figure out if people are seeing ads and retaining the information communicated. Australian out-of-home media companies employ eye tracking technologies to determine if people are looking at billboards as they’re waiting for the train. And independent studies have all sorts of insights into what affects people’s receptivity with one even suggesting popcorn can make us immune to advertising, which isn’t great news for the company that just spent big on a new cinema campaign.
But the greatest battle field for the consumer’s attention has to be online where there’s a particular strain of ad immunity known as banner blindness.
86% of people suffer from banner blindness. According to a study conducted by online advertising platform Infolinks in 2013, only 14% of respondents recalled the last display ad they saw and the company or product it promoted. Only 2.8% of respondents thought the ad they saw was relevant to them.
Of course studies have tried to crack the cause of banner blindness. Is it that people just aren’t looking at the ads? One study using analysis of eye movements says no. Another study concludes users hardly ever see banners when clicking on them is not required to accomplish a task, which goes some way to explaining the popularity of pop up ads. Another study surprisingly found animated banners are more difficult to remember than static look-alikes.
While all the evidence suggests people don’t see banner ads, there’s one type of banner you do tend to notice: the weirdly stalking one.
Those ads that remind you of products you maybe thought about buying but did not rely on cookies, files stored on your computer that hold pieces of information about you. When you visit a website, it looks at your cookies and can use the content to deliver tailored ads based on age, gender, location and things like items you’ve looked at while online shopping. That’s how you get followed around the web by an item you casually glanced at on a clothing store. But even this approach is fraught with problems. Many consumers compare it to stalking with one telling the New York Times: “It is a pretty clever marketing tool. But it’s a little creepy, especially if you don’t know what’s going on.”
Some advertisers have had success personalising online ads. Here in Australia the Qantas “You” campaign used what the brand says was the first ever personalised banner ad. When the campaign launched, the first time a customer saw a banner, it would invite them to get involved. Clicking took them to a digital hub where they could upload their name and photo. Qantas was then able to re-target customers with their own personalised banner made possible by writing a unique ID to a cookie on the user's browser during sign-up. Each banner served would then detect and read the ID returning the user's name and image.
The campaign has been referenced by many as an example of successful personalisation but the clear difference between this and the pants that stalked you on the web is that Qantas asked first before putting people’s names and images on banner ads.
But from your perspective, there’s another question that needs to be asked. Sure, there might be a way to personalise these ads so they’re relevant to you and you notice them but do you want to be followed around the internet by products at all? Will it make you buy more or even like a brand?
If you were involved in the conversation from the start, and brands were asking the right questions, you’d be more likely to notice their efforts to talk to you.