Tuesday, January 11, 2005

When Good Advertising Goes Bad

OK, we all know that ads are a part of life. It seems that there isn’t a single aspect of our lives these days that hasn’t somehow been infiltrated by advertising.

I remember in the early days of cable TV, back when it was called “pay TV”, one of its big selling points was that there wouldn’t be any ads. The stations would make money by the fees that viewers paid.

Well, I’ve got basic cable, now, and the ads are more prevalent and more annoying than the basic network ads. With the advent of the shopping networks, there are now channels that are “All ads, all the time”.

There’s junk mail in my mailbox, spam in my inbox, ads on my door, ads on websites, ads on busses and billboards. I went to the movies a bit ago, and I sat through, I’m not exaggerating, here, 10 minutes of ads and 15 minutes of previews before the feature started.

And, of course, advertising drives the web.

Now, advertising is not all evil. We are businesspeople. We need to get the word out about our products and services. The more I’m involved in both business and business mentoring, the more I am convinced that advertising drives business. Those that advertise thrive, those that don’t—die.

But we, as the advertisers, need to be very careful about how we advertise. It’s easy to get giddy with the new ways and possibilities for promotions that new technologies bring to us. But just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. There are some ways of advertising that, beyond simply not working, will actually turn your potential customers against you.

A colleague forwarded to me an article by Jakob Nielsen, author of “Designing Web Usability” and owner of http://useit.com, that showed me in some very clear terms what people don’t like about internet advertising. Take a look at this chart from the article:

Design Element -- Users Answering"Very Negatively"or "Negatively"
Pops-up in front of your window -- 95%
Loads slowly -- 94%
Tries to trick you into clicking on it -- 94%
Does not have a "Close" button -- 93%
Covers what you are trying to see -- 93%
Doesn't say what it is for -- 92%
Moves content around -- 92%
Occupies most of the page -- 90%
Blinks on and off -- 87%
Floats across the screen -- 79%
Automatically plays sound -- 79%

This serves pretty well as a “Ten Commandments” of web-based advertising. These “Thou-Shalt-Not’s” show quite plainly what people don’t like.

And, these tricks have been shown to go beyond simply not being very effective. They take the realm of advertising to new lows, where customers actually get tangibly upset and send nasty letters to both the advertiser and the host sites. Ads are supposed to catch people’s interest and make them intrigued enough to click through to your site, not bring them pounding on your door, screaming for blood, with torches and pitchforks.

So, part of the lesson is: Don’t advertise this way, and don’t let others advertise on your site this way.

But another part of the lesson is: Don’t let your own internal site design emulate any of these annoying and frightening strategies. Don’t build pop-ups into your site. Think twice before you have music start automatically playing on your site. Don’t have deceptive links that trick you into clicking.

Once again, having clear and honest content that delivers valuable information and products to your customers is the best way to go!

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