Your company has chosen to spend money to advertise on the Internet, and your intended goal is to raise brand awareness and to attract new customers. Therefore, it is important to avoid annoying and even angering Internet users with bad online advertising practices.
There Are Some Internet Ads I Absolutely Hate!
If you’ve spent any amount of time on the Internet, chances are you’ve encountered online advertisements. You may have entered a search query into Google for “Vail Ski Shop” and found a helpful Google AdWords advertisement for a ski shop in Vail. You click on the link and soon you are browsing the weekly sale items of this ski shop. This advertisement worked exactly as intended – Google AdWords facilitated the connection between you, the potential customer, and the advertiser in a way that was practical and effective.
Now imagine that you have just visited your preferred website for reporting ski conditions in Vail. As you click on a link to an article about road conditions, suddenly a black box fills your computer screen. A video featuring “extreme” skiers and snowboarders begins to play, complete with a bombastic punk rock soundtrack. The loud music is not appreciated by the other coffee shop patrons sitting at the next table. You desperately begin looking for a “close” button in order to shut down the advertisement, but you don’t see one visible in the box.
Boycotting The Obtrusive
You choose instead to manually mute the speakers on your laptop and close the web browser window you were using to browse the weather site, but before you close the window you see the logo of another ski shop in Vail. Now, not only are you frustrated by what you just experienced, but you will have to return to the site and search again for the article you wanted to read. It is entirely possible that you will readily remember the name of the ski shop and choose to personally boycott it in favor of a competing business.
Bad Ads Can Alienate Users
There are a number of bad practices used by the second hypothetical ski shop, and the cumulative experience turned out to have the exact opposite effect that the advertiser intended – money was spent on a campaign that frustrated and alienated a potential customer! What are some of the elements of the advertisement that turned out to be bad online advertising practices?
First, it is important to balance the innate desire of all advertisers to actively engage every user or viewer with the resulting temptation to force your advertisement on these same users and viewers in a disruptive way. Avoid “overlay” ads that hide a site’s content behind an ad. If you choose to use an overlay ad, always ensure that an option to close or disable the ad is present and easily found by the user. Never design an ad that deliberately hides the option to disable the ad – if a site user does not want to view your ad, forcing it on them rarely invokes a positive reaction.
Audio Is Not Okay
Never automatically begin playing audio in a multimedia ad. Not only can it be a jarring experience for a user who isn’t expecting it, there are no web technologies in place to prevent your audio from overlapping with audio that may already be playing through another browser window or application! In addition, as we illustrated through the experience of our hypothetical coffee shop patron, some users may not be aware that the speakers in their laptop, smartphone or tablet are on, sometimes causing a public disruption when audio suddenly begins playing. None of these possible scenarios will endear most users to your advertisement.
Pop-Ups Are Still Jarring
Finally, it is important to note that one of the original forms of “bad” Internet advertising – the dreaded pop up ad – is still in use today, although modern browsers now have built-in features to block these advertisements by default. Although not as disruptive to the user experience as overlay ads, pop-up ads can still be jarring to an unsuspecting user.
Are There Any Instances When These Ads Would Be Acceptable?
An online ad that may be “bad” on one web page or service can be completely acceptable on another, and it almost always depends on how well the ad format matches the format of the hosted content. A video ad that involuntarily plays with audio on by default can be disruptive on a normal website, but on YouTube this form of advertising is standard and tolerable to most users. An overlay ad can be annoying to a user attempting to read a newspaper article, but that type of ad is more acceptable as part of an image “slide show”, especially if the advertiser is identified as a sponsor before the slide show begins.