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Restraint in Advertising

By Bill Dimm
April 21, 2001


In an effort to "catch the reader's eye" some advertisers have adopted techniques that irritate and deceive the user, causing users to see little value in banner ads and thus mentally ignore them or turn to ad blocking software. This ultimately hurts the advertising industry, the publishers that rely on it, and web site users who are subjected to escalating efforts by advertisers to "shout" louder than the content on the page. Such techniques rarely work for long, since users build up a resistance to them.


Advertisers need to realize that click-through is not the proper metric for measuring advertising effectiveness. While deceptive or irritating ads may generate a click-through, they are extremely unlikely to generate sales, brand recognition, or goodwill toward a brand. Publishers and ad networks should, to preserve the value of their ad space and stem consumers' growing frustration with online ads, refuse to accept ads that:
  1. Are Misleading Ads that are made to look like modal dialog boxes used by the browser to indicate an error (or "You have an important message!") may succeed in generating click-throughs from confused users, but those users are unlikely to be left with a positive opinion of the advertiser or the content site hosting such ads when they realize that their time has been wasted.
  2. Pop-up Ads Ads that open a separate window do manage to briefly catch users' attention. They are also almost uniformly hated by users and many users have learned to kill the pop-up windows before the ad is even displayed. Additionally, some browsers such as Opera 5 manage windows in way that makes pop-ups especially disruptive (by default Opera shrinks the content window when the pop-up ad window is created).
  3. Rapidly Animated in a Non-Smooth Way Ads which use rapid animation to cause flashing (e.g. yellow caution triangle signs) or spasming images are so distracting that they can make it difficult for readers to focus on nearby content. These seem to generate more animosity than eagerness to buy a product. Ads that flash faster than 500ms should be banned. Ads which use rapid animation to emulate smooth motion are fine.

Comment or vote on this proposal.

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