The term "banner blindness" was coined by Benway and Lane as a result of website usability tests where a majority of the test subjects either consciously or unconsciously ignored information that was presented in banners. Subjects were given tasks to search information on a website. The information that was overlooked included both external advertisement banners and internal navigational banners, e.g. quick links.
Banners have developed to become one of the dominant means of advertising. 44% of the money spent on ads are the ones that remain unviewed by the viewers. In the worst situations, up to 93% of ads go unviewed. The first banner ad appeared in 1994 and since then the Click-through rate(CTR) of internet ads has been plummeting. The CTR was 2% in 1995, 0.5% in 1998 and 0.6% in 2003. As of 2013 CTR was 1% which only suggests the continued inability to engage the viewers. Though internet is thought to be an amalgamation of radio, newspaper, billboard, mail ads etc., it is related more with goals, information and interactions. Further, banner avoidance on the internet is also construed to the belief that, internet is a means for a person to accomplish their tasks and not primarily the means to enjoy oneself. The lack of understanding of the human behavior which includes the goals or purposes of being online, the need to navigate the site without being distracted by irrelevant and annoying ads, attitude towards advertisement can causes banners to be ineffective, thereby causing banner blindness. Banner placements, preexisting attitude towards brand, their relevance to the websites and to user's task are important aspects that affect the effectiveness of banner ads and have a major role in generating clicks.
This however does not mean that banner ads do not have any impact on viewers. Viewers might not have felt the existence of an ad but, it does have an unconscious influence on their consequent behaviour. A banner's content impacts both businesses and visitors of the site. A website's usability could be improved by reducing frustration and errors caused to the users by effectively addressing their needs and targeting them with ads that are relevant to their interests. Also the placement of ads is of essence in it capturing attention. Use of native advertisements and using social media is being encouraged in order to beat banner blindness because of its ability to engage the viewers.
A possible explanation for the banner blindness phenomenon lay in the way users interacted with websites. Users tend to either search for specific information or aimlessly browse from one page to the next. Users have constructed web related cognitive schemata for different tasks on the web. When searching for specific information on a website, users' focus only on the parts of the page where they assume the relevant information will be, e.g. small text and hyperlinks. A new methodological view has been taken into account, in a particular study conducted by Hervet et al. They focus on whether participants actually fixated the ads and how their gaze behaviour is related to memory for the ad. They investigated whether Internet users avoid looking at ads inserted on a non-search website using an analysis of eye movements, and if the ad content is kept in memory. Their results show that most participants fixate the ads at least once during their website visit. When a viewer is working on a task, ads may cause disturbance, eventually leading to ad avoidance. If a user wants to find something on the web page and ads disrupt or delay his search they will try to avoid the source of interference. .
Increase in the number of advertisements is one of the main reasons for the trend in declining viewer receptiveness towards internet ads. There exists a direct correlation between number of ads on a webpage and the apparent ad clutter. The opinion of the user that there are too many ads on the webpage constitute the apparent ad clutter. Number of banner ads, text ads, pop up ads, links, user's annoyance as a result of seeing too many ads and the thought of internet as platform solely for advertisements all contribute to this clutter. Visual attention is an important determinant in viewing behavior of users. It is defined as a cognitive process measured through fixations, which means stable gazes with a minimum threshold. As users can concentrate on only one stimulus at a time, having too many objects in their field of vision causes them to get unfocused. This contributes to behaviors' such ad avoidance or banner blindness.
Advertising on the internet is different from advertising on the radio or television and hence viewers behave differently to both. In the latter, the ad is intercepted only if viewer turns it off or changes the channel. The internet, specifically a webpage, is plagued with various other components with different bandwidths. The size of a banner ad is only 10% of a web page and hence doesn't get 100% attention because of which the banner ad is supposed to perform some extra functions - first attract the attention of the viewer and then to make him click on the ad.
There are 3 ways in which users behave toward advertisements. A viewer's conviction about a product, in this case banner ads, is said to be the cognitive component of ad avoidance. Such information has a direct impact on attitude and behaviors'. A customer will go back to his previous learnings to draw conclusions. In relation to banner ads, such experiences could be displeasure from clicking the ad. The affective component is the general feelings that viewers have about an object. For example, if a person already an aversion to ads, internet ads will only exacerbate it. The behavioral component is when the user takes action to avoid them, like scrolling down to avoid them,blocking pop up ads etc.
The behaviors of the viewers and their interests are important factors in producing Click-through rate(CTR). Research shows, people in general dislike banner ads. In fact, some viewers don't look at ads when surfing, let alone click on them. Therefore, when one gains familiarity with a web page, they begin to distinguish various content and their locations, ultimately avoiding banner like areas. By just looking at objects superficially, viewers are able to know objects outside their focus. And since the sizes of most banner ads fall in similar size ranges viewers tend to develop a tendency to ignore them without actually fixating on them. Bad marketing and ads that are not correctly targeted make it more likely for consumers to ignore banners that aim at capturing their attention. This phenomenon called 'purposeful blindness' shows that consumers can adapt fast and become good at ignoring marketing messages that are not relevant to them. It is a byproduct of inattentional blindness. Usability tests that compared the perception of banners between groups of subjects searching for specific information and subjects aimlessly browsing seem to support this theory - see study. A similar conclusion can be drawn from the study of Ortiz-Chaves et al. dealt with how right-side graphic elements (in contrast to purely textual) in Google AdWords affect users' visual behavior. So the study is focused on people that search something. The analysis concludes that the appearance of images does not change user interaction with ads.
Perceived usefulness is a dominant factor that impacts the behavioral intention to use the technology. The intention to click on ad is motivated to a large extent by its perceived usefulness. This relies greatly on the ads showing content that meets the immediate needs of users. The perceived ease of use of banner ads and ease of comprehension help the perceived usefulness of ads by reducing the cognitive load, thereby improving the decision making process.
The location of banner has been shown to have important effect on the user seeing the ad. Users generally go through a web page from top left to bottom right. So that suggests, having ads in this path will make them more noticeable. Ads are primarily located in the top or right of the page. Since viewers ignore ads when it falls into their peripheral vision, the right side will be ignored more. Banner ads just below the navigation area on the top will get more fixations. Especially when viewers are involved a specific task, they might attend to ads on the top, as they perceive the top page as containing content. Since they are so much into the task, the confusion that whether the top page has content or advertisement, is enough to grab their attention.
Users dislike animated ads since they tend to lose focus on their tasks. But this distraction, increase the recall and attention, in some users probably when they are involved in free browsing tasks. But on the other hand, when they are involved in a specific task there is evidence that they not only increase the completion time of tasks and the perceived workload but also do not help much in recalling the ads. Moderate animation has a positive effect on recognition rates and brand attitudes. Rapidly animated banner ads can fail, causing not only lower recognition rates but also more negative attitudes toward the advertiser. In visual search tasks, animated ads did not impact performance of users but it also did not succeed in capturing more user fixations than static ones. Animations signal the users of the existence of ads and lead to ad avoidance behavior, but after repetitive exposures they induce positive user attitude through the mere exposure effect.
Recognition of a brand may have an impact on whether a brand is noticed or not and whether its chosen or not. If the brand is unknown to the viewers, the location of such banner would influence it being noticed. On the other hand, if the brand is familiar to the viewers, the banner would reconfirm their existing attitudes toward the brand, whether positive or negative. That suggests, a banner would have positive impact only if the person seeing the banner already had a good perception about the brand. In other cases,it could dissuade users from buying from a particular brand in the future. If viewers have neutral opinion about such brands, then a banner could positively affect their choice, due to the "Mere-exposure effect", an attitude developed by people because of their awareness of a brand, which makes them feel less skeptical and less intimidated.
Congruity is the relationship of the content of the ad with the web content. There have been mixed results of congruity on users. Click through rates increased when the ads shown on a website were similar to the products or services of that website, that means there needs to be relevance of ads to the site. Having color schemes for banner congruent to the rest of website does grab the attention of the viewer but the viewer tends to respond negatively to it, than one's whose color schemes were congruent. Congruency has more impact when the user browse fewer webpages. When the ads were placed in e-commerce sports websites and print media, highly associated content led to more favorable attitudes in users towards ads. In forced exposure, like pop up ads, congruence improved memory. But when users were given specific tasks, incongruent ads grabbed their attention. At the same time, in a specific task, ad avoidance behaviors' is said to occur, but which has been said to be mitigated with congruent ads. Free tasks attracted more fixations than imposed task. Imposed task didn't affect memory and recognition. Free task affected memory but not recognition. The combination of free task and congruence has been said to represent the best scenario to understand its impact, since it is closer to real life browsing habits. The importance of congruency is that, even though it doesn't affect recognition and memory, it does attract more fixations which is better than not seeing the ad at all. In one such test conducted, a lesser known brand was recalled by a majority of people than an ad for a famous brand because the ad of the lesser known brand was relevant to the page. The relevance of user's task and the content of ad and website does not affect view time due to users preconceived notion of the ads irrelevance to the task in hand.
On the flip side, the congruency between the ad and the editorial content had no effect on fixation duration on the ad but congruent ads were better memorised than incongruent ads, according to the experiments conducted by Hervet et al.
Personalized ads are ads that use information about viewers and include them in it, like demographic, PII, purchasing habits, brand choices, etc. A viewer's responsiveness could be increased by personalization. For example, if an ad contained his name, there is better likelihood of purchase for the product. That is, it not only affects their intention but also their consequent behavior that translates into higher clicks with a caveat that they must have the ability to control their privacy settings. The ability to control the personalization and customizability has great impact on users and can be called as a strong determinant of their attitudes towards ads. Personalized information increased their attention and elaboration levels. An ad is noticed more if it has higher degree of personalization, even if it causes slight discomfort in users. Personalized ads are found to be clicked much more than other ads. If a user is involved in a demanding task, more attention is paid to a personalized ad even though they already have higher cognitive load. On the other hand, if the user is involved in a light task, lesser attention is given to both types of ads. Also personalized ad in some case was not perceived as a goal impediment, which has been construed to the apparent utility and value offered in such ads. The involvement elicited overcompensates the goal impediment.
But such ads do increase privacy anxieties, and can appear to be 'creepy'. An individual who is skeptical about privacy concerns will avoid such ads. This is because, users think that the personally identifiable information is used in order for these ads to show up and also suspect their data being shared with third party or advertisers. Users are okay with behavior tracking if they have faith in the internet company that permitted the ad. Though, such ads have been found to be useful, users do not always prefer their behaviors' be used to personalize ads. It also has a positive impact if it also includes their predilection of style, and timing apart from just their interests. Ads are clicked when it shows something relevant to their search but if the purchase has been made, and the ad continues to appear, it causes frustration.
Contrasting to this, personalization enhanced recognition for the content of banners while the effect on attention was weaker and partially nonsignificant, in the studies conducted by Koster et al. Overall exploration of web pages and recognition of task-relevant information was not influenced. The temporal course of fixations revealed that visual exploration of banners typically proceeds from the picture to the logo and finally to the slogan.
The traditional ways of attracting banner with phrases like "click here" etc., do not attract viewers. Prices and promotions, when mentioned in banner ads do not have any effect on the CTR. In fact the absence of it, had the most effect on impressions. Display promotions of banner ads do not have a major impact on their perceived usefulness. Users assume that all ads signify promotions of some sort and hence do not give much weight to it.
The trick of effective ads is to make them less like banner ads. Native ads are ads that are delivered within the online feed content. For example, short video ads played between episodes of a series, text ads in social feeds, graphic ads within mobile apps. The idea is the ads are designed as a part of general experiences in order to not move the user away from his task. Native ads are better in gaining attention and engagement than traditional ads. In experiment conducted by infolinks, integrated native ads were seen 47% faster than banner ads and these areas had 451% more fixations than banner ads. Also time spent by a user was 4000% more, which leads to better recall. Native ads are consumed the same way as the web content. Viewability can be defined as measure of whether an ad is visible on a site. Location and placement of an ad affects the viewabilty. Native advertisements have better viewability because they are better integrated with the website and have useful formats for customers. That's one of the reasons why in-image ads have gained popularity. They are generally found in prime locations laid on top of website images which make them highly visible.
Non-traditional placements of ads are important since users become trained in avoiding standard banner areas. But it should not disturb their experience of content. Simple ads placed in nontraditional and non-intrusive area have better impact than rich media with usual placement.
MILP (Mixed Integer Linear Programming) approach to tackle banner blindness is based is on the hypothesis that the exposure effect of banner changes from page to page. It proposes that if a banner is not placed on one web page and unexpectedly appears on the next, there would be more chances of the users noticing it. Data for the study was obtained from the clickstream . Then preprocessing was done to clean the data, remove irrelevant records, link it to specific users, and divide the user records into user sessions. Next, Markov chain was used to calculate the total exposure effect of a specific banner setting on a user. The theory of a mixed integer linear programming (MILP) is applied to select the location for the banner, where two situations were considered - one where a banner remained at one location on the webpages and the other where it frequently changed throughout the day. The result of the study showed that the difference between exposure effect of dynamic and static placement to be small, with exposure effect of dynamic being slightly more, and so choosing dynamic placement would not be a mistake. An approach such as MILP could be used by advertisers to find the most efficient location of banners.
About ¾ of viewers get frustrated with websites that has ads that has nothing to do with their interests. Advertising efforts must focus on the user's current intention and interest and not just previous searches. Its better and more effective to publish fewer but relevant ads which can be done with the use of data analytics and campaign management tools to properly separate the viewers and present them ads with relevant content. Information about customers goals and aspirations could be gained through gamification tools which could reward them for providing valuable information that helps segment users according to their interests and helps effective targeting. Interactive ads could be used to make the customers aware of their products. Such tools could be quizzes, calculators, chats', questionnaires. This will further help in understanding the plans of potential customers. Ads should be presented as tips or expert advice, rather than just plain ads.
All forms of advertising scored low in the trust factor study by the Nielsen Report on Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages from April 2012. But Facebook's "recommendations from people I know" scored highest on the trust factor, with 92 percent of consumers having no problem believing this source. Also brand web sites, scored higher than paid advertising, but lower than social recommendations. The promotion of product or services through known people piqued interests of users as well as the views of ads much more efficiently than banner ads. This way advertisers are able to elicit and transfer feelings of safety and trust from friends to the ads shown, thereby validating the ads. The social pressure by the peer group has the ability to not make the users view ads but also encourage them to change attitudes, and consequent behavior in order to adapt to group customs.
Businesses could interact with customers on social media, because not only they spend more time there, but also listen to recommendations from friends and family more than advertisers. Companies could reward customers for recommending products. Digital applications could include features that will allow them to share reviews or feedbacks on social media etc.
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