An Inconvenient Truth: Your Advertising is Invisible

A growing portion of online advertising is purchased through DSPs and ad networks, and with literally millions of sites that sell ads through these channels, online advertisers cannot rely on knowing every site their ads are on.

With this has come a new wave of quality control issues for online advertisers. According to recent research from ComScore, 31% of banner ads don’t ever have the chance to be seen.

So how many banners really go unseen? Here is a summary of 2011 online advertising in the US, based on data from ComScore:

  • 4.8 trillion online banner ads were served in 2011.
  • The average person online in the US was served 19,000 banners in 2011.
  • If 31% of banners are not seen, every person still sees more than 13,000 banners a year.

Do you really see more than 1,000 banners a month? More importantly, do your parents, older relatives and neighbors, who don’t spend as much time online as you?

I’m a heavy online user, and with pages like this one piled high with banners, my browser may load 19,000 banners a year. But even working in advertising, I rarely notice banners.

Banner BlindnessThe real number of ads that is not seen is far higher than 31%. Banner blindness, or the tendancy for web visitors to scan a page around an ad without looking at the ad, is well documented. The image at the right shows the results of an eye tracking study and how the focus is on the content.

Every channel has similar issues. In television, ads have fewer viewers than programming, and ads in the middle of a commercial block have fewer viewers than ads at the beginning and end of the block. In print, an ad in the front third of a magazine is more likely to be seen than one in the back third.

Technology solutions, like the one ComScore’s research supports and similar offerings from firms like DoubleVerify, do not solve this problem. They are simply one more quality indicator and data point that may help explain results or behavior of media partners.

In Summary

This is the reality marketers need to face: An advertising impression, across every channel, is simply an opportunity for someone to see your ad. It does not guarantee it was seen. Technology offerings are an aid, but they do not address the entire problem. It is up to you, as a marketer, to ensure your marketing and advertising is reaching and making an impact on your audience.

Your Turn

How many banners do you notice every month? Based on the banner creative that is predominant online, do believe banners on the page that you do not specifically notice have a meaningful subconscious impact on you? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

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About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs at Babcock & Jenkins. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my B2B Digital Marketing blog.

  • KNormandeau

    Interesting research Eric, and this challenge will only get worse in the years ahead.

    One thing we know is that all ad impressions are not created equal. Likewise not all creative is equal. This new research makes me think about the importance of good old school Web 1.0 tactics like “contextual relevance” and  ”a/b/c split creative testing.”

    No doubt we are bomabarded by ads and we can’t notice or recall a good majority of them. Yet, when you are in the market for a product or service and doing some online research, contextually relevant ads are more likely to catch you eye. Likewise creative testing can often double the click through rate or brand recall studies.

    Every day it seems there is new ad networks or targeting technologies and we need to test some of them. Yet, we can’t forget about some of the early learnings for a successful online ad campaign.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Spot on. The new tools don’t replace the traditional skillsets, they just add to the overall complexity.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.vision2voice.ca/ Andrea

    19,000 banner ads?! No wonder my head hurts!

    This drives home the reality that to catch people’s attention we need extreme creativity to rise above the crowd. And I also wonder, should we stop encroaching on people in their online space? Maybe we are trying too hard?

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Or maybe we need to try “different”. Personally I am a proponent of content marketing and inbound marketing to help overcome this. Rather than shouting louder or more creatively, we help our audience by delivering what they need.

      If enough marketers make the switch, maybe our heads won’t hurt so badly!

  • http://twitter.com/Costus Michael Corry

    I don’t see how banner adverts are different to ads in Newspapers etc..

    How many ads go unnoticed in any environment. In which case is it not advertising in general that is the problem? In fact, if anything digital let’s you target ads served by geographic, demographic and interests – or even whether someones in the buying life cycle for your product using retargeting.

    Thus I’m not sure you’re making as dire a point as you believe you are. 

    There exists in marketing, online or offline, many mediums to achieve outcomes, each have their relative pros and cons but ultimately it’s all still a numbers game. 

    Which is not to say focusing on more engaging, involving, creative adverts s not the answer. Of course it is but across the line, not just digital. See Cocal Cola ‘Hugs for a Coke’ campaigns. 

    Of course this is the direction we are going in. But ultimately, I know that from those millions of impressions I’m going to get roughly x amounts of clicks and from them I’ll convert Y to a total value Z. Z/Spend is ROI. If that ROI is within the price you’re willing to pay for a client, what is wrong with the channel?

    For some industries these formulas eventuate into profits easily, for others investment in branding over the longer term, impacts click through rates, which if you do the math, returns better yields. 

    This is the same all the way down the formula, improve your creative, improve your website, improve your products, improve your service and you win. 

    Cheaper, more accessible and ubiquitous  options for digital advertising let smaller players compete where only the big boys could in the past, this is good for competition, good for consumers – good for everyone.

    Except maybe lazy firms, who used their size to shout loudest and settled on not innovating. Now they may actually have to let their products do their advertising.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Hi Michael, thanks for the additions. One of the challenges I am seeing is the idea that you can throw a technology solution at it.

      Every channel has this problem (I used TV and magazines as examples), overcoming it isn’t just a technology fix and new currency (paying for ads that are seen according to the technology). As the first commenter mentioned, those old testing and optimization skills still matter, and the new technology to measure exposure will not change that.

      Thanks for your additions!

  • http://aigendigitalmarketing.com Abel Pardo

    One of the most important facts when developing a site is to know where advertising must be placed. In this sense, like all of us have to have good landing pages focused in call to actions, should have web designs focused n advertising instead of texts or images.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Abel, it is definitely a consideration for ad supported publishers, but it has to be carefully balanced. Too much focus on the advertising in layout and design means the publishers own content becomes secondary, and that doesn’t help them develop or maintain their audience.

      • http://aigendigitalmarketing.com Abel Pardo

        I agree, and this post is really interesting for making people think about some of these facts. Congratulations for the post, Eric!

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