Yesterday, I was quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Times titled In-your-face Web ad formats popping up all over. The story was on the new "supersize" ad formats launched by the Online Publisher's Association. Reading back my quote almost made my stomach turn:
"A large-scale intrusive format is absolutely necessary in today's market," said Adam Kleinberg, chief executive of Traction, a San Francisco ad agency. "With the economy and the move to digital, the marketers are demanding a return on investment in every campaign."
Not that I was misquoted. I said it. I even meant it. It just sounded evil when I saw it in print.
First, let me state for the record: I’m not evil. (ok, maybe a little evil, but not in this instance). No one wants to be “intrusive” and disrupt someone’s experience—personally, I’m a big champion of user-centered experience design—but people need to get a grip. Here’s some reasons why:
1. This is nothing new. As a digital marketing creative pioneer, I’ve been making interstitials and rich media create ad units that disrupt the user experience for a decade already. Why is OPA standardizing some new formats suddenly so horrible? Even Google is getting in on the game announcing a partnership with Eyeblaster—and we all know Google isn’t evil.
2. Content needs to be paid for. Ads support the creation of good content. This is part of life. So is trying to skip them. When I was a kid and a commercial came on during Different Strokes, I’d go into the kitchen and annoy my mom. Sometimes she’d yell at me and I’d go back and watch the commercials. Digital media is no different. People are empowered so they skip ads when they can. But sometimes ads get through and that’s life.
3. People think they know what they want, but often they don’t. I’ve sat and talked to a lot of young people who’ve grown up in the digital age. To a one Ask anyone and they’ll all tell you they hate advertising. But, you know what? They’re all just as impacted by it as the rest of us… and when an ad is relevant to them, they appreciate it. Consumers can only really provide an honest guess about what they will do in a future situation, but the reality may be materially different.
4. Brands still need awareness and ROI. Audiences skip commercials on TV. 728s are next to invisible. People are spending their time online and brands have to either market to them or wither up and die. Currently, there are lots of publishers with unique ad units that allow us to do this (think MySpace homepage takeovers) but it’s very difficult to achieve positive ROI on a campaign when you have to spend thousands of dollars on one-off creative units. Standards for “intrusive” ad units are necessary. But that doesn't mean they have to turly be intrusive. As marketers, we have a responsibility to both our clients and our audiences to develop marketing that is engaging and "beneficial." Few people complain about advertising that they actually liked. Yes, I know that is a utopian vision of online advertising. And yes, I know marketers will continue to have ad concepts that are more "intrusive" then contextually appropriate. But used wisely, these formats can be at least more interesting and "accepted" then just eye sores. Hooray for OPA.
5. In this economy, marketers need to justify every dime they spend. That means digital. That means awareness being measured, imperfectly or not. That means new metrics like “dwell-time” and indirect measures like impact on search traffic.
My two cents, anyway.