Ad It Up: The skinny on banners and pop-up ads
Yes, it's taken a few years to actually figure out how to make it work. Not surprisingly, the build-it-and-the-money-will-come model worked about as well for advertisers as it did for dot-coms. But when done with an eye
toward return on investment and with a specific goal in mind, advertising on the Internet is not the money pit it's been painted as in the post-bubble world.
There are many questions to ask before you undertake an online campaign. Will you employ an in-page unit, a pop-up or a pop-under? What sites, or publishers, will you target? With what frequency do you want your ads to appear, and does that jibe with the publisher's standards? Will segmentation be possible? What times of the day, or dayparting, will work best? Will you use rich media? The list of considerations goes on.
This month we'll examine the most popular formats, and look at what strategies work best with each.
In many circles, there's nothing better than the in-page or in-place unit, also known as the banner ad. Ads that appear on the publisher's pagee.g., on an article on The New York Times' Web sitecarry the implicit seal of approval of that site and are not deemed as intrusive as pop-ups and pop-unders that open in new browser windows.
"We're big advocates of the in-place unit," says Tom Goosmann, executive director, creative, for direct and interactive agency True North Inc. in New York.
The problem with this type of advertising is that small sizes and marginal location means advertisers often are forced to employ attention-grabbing tactics that can make their ads as annoying as the pop-up/under variety.
"The trend has been to push ads up and push ads offsuch as right-side skyscrapers that end up cropped or banners placed where the eye doesn't naturally begin [on a page]," bemoans Goosmann. "That's fine for the publisher who wants to deliver content, but it's led to people trying to design ads that behave like a hyperactive child, trying everything possible to get attention."
"[Accommodating] bigger ad units is where we feel publishers can best be supporting advertising," says Goosmann. "Ads that have copy flowing around them ... where somebody who's spending five minutes reading the article will see it. It's going to get you the kind of impression you really want."
There's been a push toward ad-size standardization by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB)a voluntary set of guidelines for advertisers and publishers. Goosmann feels it generally is a good idea, but also feels that "sometimes the creative lends itself to interesting [design] solutions, and we try to work with publishers."
"We often come up with placements that don't exist," says Stacey Nachtaler, regional president of iTraffic, a subsidiary of Agency.com. For a campaign for British Airways' business-class flat bed, "The media department and our creative department went to sites and said essentially, 'The sizes that you're offering us are not good enough for what we need to achieve for our client.' And sites worked with us."
The New York Times on the Web and other sites obliged, offering new sizes for the campaign.
A May 2003 study by Advertising.com titled "Online Consumer Behavior and Interactive Marketing," compared one-week click-through and conversion rates of some standard ad units (among 15 million users who were served more than 168 million ad units). Results for full banners, leaderboards, skyscrapers and pop-ups were compared.
Using the performance of the full banner unit (a thin, horizontal unit, usually centered) as a baseline, Advertising.com's study found that leaderboards (banners that span the width of an entire browser window) drew higher click through but lower conversion. Skyscrapers (vertical banners) drew much higher click through and somewhat higher conversion. Pop-ups drew considerably higher click through and conversion.
Pop Up, Pop Under
Ads that pop, whether on top of or beneath a Web page, have become the whipping boy of the online advertising world. Just as you can't seem to pick up a newspaper these days without reading about the scourge that is spam, it's hard to escape handwringing about pop-up ads. ISP Earthlink touts its Pop-up Blockers, and Google has released version 2.0 of its toolbar for Windows Internet Explorer, which offers pop-up blocking, and does so with a happy zapping sound.
And yet, like other marketing channels that consumers gripe about loudly, pop-up ads work.
"The whole pop-up issue has become a baby-with-the-bathwater issue," says Goosmann. "All of a sudden all pop-ups are evil. There has to be a sensitivity on the part of the publisher toward their use, which is to say that within a session a site is not going to bombard you with more than one pop-up or pop-under."
Advertising.com's study found that pop-ups are the most effective unit for "generating brand awareness, message association, brand favorability and purchase intent."
Pop-up ads get noticed, but not always in a positive way. Anyone who's ever landed on a site serving ads for the X10 "security" camera can attest to this.
Goosmann offers an example from a movie campaign: "We had unaided brand recall determined by a survey asking users, 'Did you see an ad for a movie?' Responses ... were 24-percent higher for pop-ups than for banners, but pop-ups were determined to have high brand recall and a high-irritation factor."
A trend in the last couple of years has been to have the pop-up ad display, discreetly, beneath a Web pagea pop-under.
There are differing philosophies here. The pop-up is more attention-grabbing but more potentially annoying; the pop-under is less intrusive, but because it's often not seen until a user is ready to end her session, doesn't tend to be as impactful.
"We find, from the creative side, that pop-unders are after-the-fact," explains Goosmann, "and [unlike pop-ups] they don't reach people as they are focused on an action."
The key with ads that pop is to limit frequency. If you limit your ad to one impression per user session, you've got a much better chance of staying in users' good graces.
Rich or Not
As broadband access becomes more prevalent, advertisers need to consider the use of rich mediamore elaborate ads incorporating motion and sound.
According to Scott Spencer, product director of DART for Publisher Products at DoubleClick Inc., "For rich media ads, the click-through rate is 1.87 percent compared to 0.34 percent for non-rich media. But while rich media is consistently above non-rich, we've seen a decline in rich media. People are getting more used to this type of ad."
The Advertising.com study showed that rich media is not necessarily more effective in generating clicks as compared to non-rich media. However, rich media proved to be about four times more effective in generating conversion.
The only real issues to consider from an ad-serving technology standpoint, says Roy de Souza, CEO of ad serving company Zedo, are size and frequency.
The larger the file size of your ad, the more you'll have to pay per impression. Rich media ads are almost always more expensive to serve than non-rich media, and bigger non-rich media ads (e.g., pop-ups) usually are more expensive to serve than smaller ones (banners).
Dayparting and Media Buying
Two more key factors, which go somewhat hand in hand, are media buying and dayparting.
Media buying is deciding with which Web siteand within which section of that siteyour ad will appear. While best-fit sites often are self-evident, it's important to test sites that might not seem so obvious. There are products available, such as DoubleClick's Media Visor and Commission Junction's Account Manager 6.0, that help automate portions of the media-buying process.
"As user populations tend to go, it's almost always better to get a home page," says DoubleClick's Spencer.
Time of day also is vital, and hours during the traditional business day almost always outperform hours outside of it. "It's always better," says Spencer, "to get something at midday than at 3 a.m."
According to Advertising.com's study, "Performance improved during daytime hours. Performance improvements were spread across over- and under-achieving banners, and showed that for the most part, advertisers achieve peak performance during work hours, with the highest performance occurring around noon."
But the survey shows the business-day rule does have its exceptions: "[T]here is not a best daypart for all ads, and performance should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. For example, one advertiser achieved peak performance between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., while an ad for another advertiser showed peak performance between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon."
All of which is to say that no matter what the goals of your online advertising campaignwhether it be to inspire action or create awareness of your productyou'll have to test to determine what works best for you.
There probably are more variables on the Internet than any other channel, but you'll also get your response results that much more quickly.
Favorite positions: The full banner (top) is an accepted standard, though ads such as the one below it, surrounded by text, are becoming more common and preferred by advertisers.
In a single bound: Skyscraper ads showed a 60-percent increase in click throughs over full banners, according to an Advertising.com study.