If you see an ad as you browse the web, there are several reasons why it could create an unpleasant user experience. Clicking on the ‘Send feedback’ option for Google ads, for instance, offers some common explanations. Maybe you’ve seen the ad multiple times, or it covered page content. Maybe it was inappropriate or simply not interesting.
Most often, however, users don’t even bother to close ads or send feedback. It’s one click too many and takes too much effort when you’d rather be scrolling, swiping, and reading. This leads to a phenomenon known as ad or banner blindness. And while it can help the end-user navigate the internet free from distraction, it’s a challenge businesses have to overcome.
A survival mechanism
The term ‘banner blindness’ is relatively recent. It pertains specifically to the way people browsing websites tend to identify certain page elements as ads. Whether or not this identification is accurate, those users ignore the elements because they are extraneous to their needs.
Banner blindness is simply an evolution of the larger, well-known phenomenon of ad blindness. The latter category encompasses efforts by marketers to reach audiences through other channels.
Studies on ad blindness go back to the days when television was the dominant medium for advertising. Even in the age of radio, before TV sets were a household fixture, companies made use of catchy jingles, knowing that listeners could tune out their ads.
This need to tune out stimuli is a basic survival mechanism at work. Human beings have evolved to focus on what we perceive as important. Without such selective attention, we would be overwhelmed by the stimuli in the environment. This remains useful today, even though we live in urban jungles rather than real ones, bombarded by ads threatening to drain our wallets instead of predators threatening our lives.
Yet on the flip side of the equation, ads are also a survival mechanism for businesses. They need to grow and acquire new customers. With the internet emerging as the biggest frontier for exposure to modern audiences, banner ads continue to return results, even if clickthrough rates are a miserly 5 per 10,000 impressions.
Understanding the root cause
Relying on banner ads alone is inefficient and unlikely to funnel enough results. Most businesses know this. They work on improving their ads in several ways to help overcome the banner blindness effect.
Visual enhancements, such as better use of color or animation, can give any element on a webpage greater visual weight. Strategic placement within a layout can help, and advertisers often seek to position their ads to take advantage of the F-pattern of scanning content. Marketers also rightfully place greater value on the relevance of ads themselves to the target audience.
These tactics help but don’t address the root of the problem. Banner blindness exists because users develop the subconscious ability to differentiate content from ads. They will continue to do so as advertisements strive to adapt and compete for attention.
Diversification as a workaround
Diversification is an essential component of marketing today. But marketers often forget that one of this principle’s strengths is doing something very different to potentially achieve great results. Two options stand out in this regard: native advertising and traditional marketing.
Native advertising works around the banner blindness effect by placing your ads right within the content. It skips all the gimmicks used to make elements stand out visually and places the ad right where the user will read.
If users ignore a native ad, it will be after evaluating it and deciding they aren’t interested, not because their brains automatically made them skip the entire section. In other words, it becomes a targeting problem, taking you one step closer to your goal.
On the other hand, traditional marketing techniques have the potential to draw attention through a combination of persistence and relative novelty. Consider direct mail services, for instance. Paper persists. The longer people leave printed materials lying around the house, which can be 17 days on average, the more the brand becomes familiar.
Placing ads in printed media or on TV, or even the radio, can also attract audiences that aren’t saturated in the same way internet-bound audiences may be. Their ability to tune out such messaging isn’t as finely developed. Going against the grain in this regard, you can actually present people with a more novel experience than the ‘death by banner ads’ approach.
Using these techniques doesn’t replace more conventional methods of marketing. They are a supplement, and with enough refinement, they can be an advantageous form of diversification to your overall strategy.