Why we urgently need better ways to advertise online

Carsten Popp

Carsten Popp

Managing Director, Plan.Net Pulse

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A skyscraper here, a billboard there and more often than not a layer ad between them: on an online page which, let’s say, does not have the needs of its users 100% at heart, it is easy to feel as if you were standing in a side street just off Times Square, with bright lights flashing on and off everywhere you look. It is not surprising that exasperated users turn away. Of course there is advertising elsewhere; in some publications there appears to be even more than on an online news page. However, the distribution of content and ads usually seems tidier and less insistent. It goes without saying that magazines and websites impose completely different layout constraints – but it must nevertheless be possible for advertising material to meet certain standards in the digital environment. Marketers promise high-quality advertising spaces. This is what users want, but the reality is sometimes still reminiscent of an overcrowded funfair.

It is high time for a digital spring (summer) clean. And that means all of us: marketers, advertisers, creative and media agencies. Let’s wave a gradual but final goodbye to advertising as an alien component in design. The optimum user experience should be the paramount consideration online as well as elsewhere. Flagrantly over-used pop-ups have exactly the opposite effect, as do traditional rectangular formats with an appearance and a content which bear little relation to the editorial.

In this online age, relevance is the be all and end all; this should apply not only to content, but also to the aesthetics of advertising. Rule number one: be polite. If I want to persuade consumers to buy my product, I should not be distracting them repeatedly as they read. We must find a way to attract attention without intruding. At the same time, we need balance. Rule number two: online advertising should occupy as much space as possible. Few creatives can really show what they are capable of on 200 x 300 pixels. Sticky Dynamics are a positive feature for use on desktops. Large-format ads which move as the user scrolls and which ideally are enhanced with moving elements but which do not break into the editorial content.

For me, the balance between target group, advertisement and editorial content is another consideration when placing large-format advertising designed to avoid irritation. In print media, advertisers can adjust their advertisement to suit the editorial plan. Although online articles are a much more short-term affair, in these times of big data the maxim “content is king” still holds true. Polite advertising means making the target group in each situation an offer: “You are reading an article about mountaineering. If you still need outdoor equipment for the season, this is the place for you.” Ideally, advertisers will use multitab advertising materials so that users can browse through what’s on offer without leaving the site they are on. In theory, it should be possible for a complete customer journey, including finalising a sale, to take place within a multitab advertising environment.

All content streaming formats function as well as they can on mobile end devices. Content and advertising are clearly distinguished and users can just scroll away from the ads. Generally speaking, every advertisement which does not need to be clicked away is a step in the right direction. This is because most of the clicks on many layer ads accumulate because some users fail to hit the X for closing the advertisement.

Furthermore, smartphones by their nature offer quite different functionality from desktops – interactive move formats such as shake ads, 3-D ads and panorama ads use movement of the smartphone to provide entertaining interaction and a completely new and surprising brand experience for users.

So, dear industry, let’s get to work! We urgently need to improve the quality of online advertising formats, because, unfortunately, the current standard still sometimes borders on highway robbery. The good news is that this seems to be recognised to some extent. For example, BURDA Forward’s “Goodvertising Initiative” is spearheading more user-friendly advertising. Striking evidence of implementation of this strategy is the change in the layout of Focus Online which deserves to be mentioned. The website’s original three-column basic layout has been replaced by a substantially more sophisticated two-column approach.

Excellent editorial content deserves innovative, high-quality and, above all, user-friendly advertising material – which, incidentally, can probably be sold for a higher price than a fairground bargain stall. If we can’t do this, then we know what the alternative is: users who reach the end of their tether and install adblockers.

This article was also published at W&V.

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