Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Web ads – what are they for?

This is an age-neutral blog posting about a couple of bits of research I have just read about the dynamics of Web advertising.

The first research study is from the University of Kentucky's School of Journalism and Telecommunications and claims that just seeing an ad on a Web page can be remembered and doesn't rely on the ad being clicked. The full article is on the Technology Review web site.

It appears that when we view Web ads we store the information in two different types of memory: explicit and implicit. Explicit memory involves facts learned through conscious interaction, while implicit memory involves unconscious retention.

Explicitly remembered information includes ad slogans, product benefits and Web site addresses.

Implicit memory comes into play when external stimuli trigger concepts (i.e. developing an unconscious affinity for a certain brand despite not knowing specific facts about it)

The research showed that people who paid attention to a banner advertisement were more likely than those who didn't to recall whole words and facts from the ad (i.e. those in explicit memory). However, all ads had the same level of impact in the unconscious explicit memory, whether or not they'd been clicked.

Having written these words it sound to me like the research has stated the obvious.

An article that offers some more tangible insights is appears on the WARC Web site. Sorry it subscription only. A survey of 900 people was conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings.

People were asked what action they would take to an online advertisement for holidays or flights. Assuming they did something, would they click on the ad, do a search or go directly to the advertiser's website?

Only 26% of people said they would click on the banner ad.

The most popular response was to do a search, either for the advertiser's name (26%) or for a general term related to the advertisement (31%).

This means that more than twice as many people are potentially being driven to a search engine by banner advertising than are clicking directly on the banner itself. Now that is an interesting result.

It gets even more interesting, since the advertising also prompts a large numbers to go directly to the company’s Web site (29% of people told us they would go straight to an advertiser's website by typing in a URL – they figure rises to 38% for experienced travellers taking three or more major holidays per year).

The explanation for the behaviour seems to be .

Web activity is very much task-driven. When clicking on a banner gets in the way of completing the task the majority of people prefer to make a mental (or physical) note to follow up on the advertising after they have completed their task.

Both of these bits of research must be music to ears of companies selling banner inventory. You can just hear them saying: “forget all this nonsense about click-through rates they don’t matter”. Maybe they are right? Dick Stroud

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