Advertisers and Publishers: Clean Up Your Act!

By Seana Mulcahy

Did you know the average consumer sees about 130 advertising messages a day? The consumer’s online time is typically about an hour per day. You do the math.

Think of a Web site… any Web site. What do you see? Describe it. Although many of you are bound to offer different descriptions, I’m sure there are common threads. Maybe you said colorful, action-packed, busy, lots going on. Maybe you described it as boring or confusing. Either way, there’s a ton of stuff jammed into a 14-inch square.

In a landscape of pixels, online ad opportunities seem limitless. When is enough enough?

Are Web users inured to online ads due to the clutter factor?

A few studies addressing clutter have recently been released. Results were hardly surprising. Ad clutter hinders ad effectiveness.

Although there’s no standard benchmark for ad clutter, Dynamic Logic created pages with the relative degrees of clutter defined below for a joint study with the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF):

  • Defined clutter. This is the number of elements on a Web page, including graphics, text, and other visual stimuli. One Web page was chosen and altered to create three test environments: very, somewhat, and not cluttered.
  • Perceived clutter. Respondents were asked to rate how cluttered the specific page they visited felt to them.

According to Double Click, “In all environments, multiple ads were tested to minimize creative biases and isolate the variables of page clutter. The research results show perceived clutter has more of an impact on ad effectiveness than defined clutter.

It’s critical to view clutter in the eyes of the consumer. Face it, what seems uncluttered to you could appear very cluttered to a user.

Unlike frequency, clutter is a factor that can negatively impact user experience. In a series of surveys conducted earlier this year, iVillage found cluttered page design stifled brand effectiveness by 8 percent. Uncluttered pages yielded a 65 percent user recall rate. A little over half of consumers (57 percent) could recall ads.

These findings have serious implications for advertisers and publishers. Publishers want to offer users a positive, robust experience. Advertisers seek opportunities to cut through clutter and for a higher share of voice. But reducing ads means reducing available impressions. This creates another dilemma. We all want online ad revenues up, but we want the clutter factor down. Advertisers and publishers must work together to create unique experiences within rather limited space.

New York based ad network BURST! Media is working toward a solution. CEO Jarvis Coffin shared findings of a recent study with me. The BURST! survey focused solely on advertising’s contribution to perceived site clutter. It did not examine the impact site design or content may have on the Web users experience.

Approximately 3,000 surfers said they generally accept advertising on the Internet. What’s the catch? Well, 63 percent of those same respondents said they would not tolerate more than two ads per page. Another third said they would only accept one ad per page.

Other findings include:

  • Perceived clutter causes site abandonment. More than one in three (36 percent) respondents said they would immediately leave a site if it appeared cluttered with advertising. This finding is near identical for men and women and for all income segments analyzed. Teens (13-17) are more likely than other age segments to abandon a site perceived as cluttered.
  • Message effectiveness deteriorates. Nearly 7 out of 10 respondents who remain on a site they perceive to be cluttered say they pay less attention to the ads. Again, this finding is consistent for men and women and among all age and income segments.
  • Brand favorability is at risk. One of the most resounding findings from the survey is the negative
    impact advertising clutter can have on a consumer’s perception of advertisers’ products and services.

The BURST! study found 58 percent of respondents had a less favorable opinion of an advertisers’ product or service when it appeared in advertising on a Web page they perceived as cluttered.

Use caution developing online campaigns. Understand your audience’s technographics and user preferences. Utilize a mix of ad units, from rich media to text links. Don’t overuse a single creative message or unit. Instead, use several. Take a look at the amount of impressions purchased versus the site’s overall impression count over your flight. There’s math involved, but it’s easy to draft some quick numbers. Online advertising is an art as much as it is a science.

Seana Mulcahy is vice president, director of interactive media at Mullen (an IPG company). She’s been creating online brands since before the first banner was sold. Her expertise includes online and traditional media planning and buying, email marketing, viral marketing, click-stream analysis, customer tracking, promotions, search engine optimization and launching brands online. Prior to Mullen, Seana was vice president of media services at Carat Interactive. She’s built online media services divisions for three companies and has worked with clients spanning financial, telecom, high-tech, healthcare and retail. Not surprisingly, she has taught, lectured and written about the industry for numerous trade associations and publications.

Reprinted from

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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