Advertisers: Let Us Surf in Peace

By | December 20, 2005

Google has shown us the way; simple clean layout with just the necessary amount of information to get what you’re looking for equals success online. Not that this has not been done before, but Google showed us that a company can follow the clean look aesthetic and become hugely successful. Myriads of websites have caught on and followed the path to a cleaner, more Usability-oriented design. Now most of the major players on the internet are paying close attention to usability over mere design. Perhaps it’s time for banner advertisers to take the plunge.

A vast majority of banner advertisements on the internet aim to distract the user from the content of the page with flashy graphics and annoying animations. Sure, that’s the main purpose of a banner add: to get the surfer’s attention and get her to click on the banner, right? The problem is that most web users have learned to recognize what part of the page is a banner add and what is content, and will simply ignore the advertisement. Given this scenario, a new strategy needs to germinate in the world of banner advertisement that is more in tune with the Googlesque philosophy of favoring content over visual stimulation.

When looking at a new website, and trying to determine its chances of becoming a success, one should pay close attention to its design. Invariably, sites that pay more attention to allowing the user to get to the information outperform those that give way to gratuitous design. Less is more in this is the new model of successful web design. Does this mean we can do away with web designers altogether? On the contrary, it takes a seasoned and sophisticated designer to present the information in the most clear and readable manner possible. A successful design will allow the information to shine while offering the viewer a pleasant and fulfilling browsing experience.

Much like makeup should emphasize a woman’s natural beauty, not the makeup artist’s skills, and like spices should mix gently with the inherent flavors of the meal, rather than showing off the skills of the cook, so too should good web design make the information appealing and enjoyable to take in, rather than draw any attention to the designer’s skills.

There will, of course be exceptions, and once in a while it will be necessary to make things pop more. When designing a site for teenage girls, one would want to apply methods of design that would otherwise be frowned upon. For the most ecommerce websites with conversion in mind, however, it holds true that a transparent design will deliver better results.

But getting back to our friends in the banner design business, how can they benefit from the philosophy of more is less? One path that is very popular, is to ignore the shifts in web design trends, and to continue to pump out ads that are more obnoxious, and more distracting, in hopes that with most pages getting cleaner and calmer, the banner will stand out even more. Well, I will be the first to say, that this strategy is working, although not to the advertisers’ advantage. Banner ads are becoming easier and easier to spot, and thus to ignore; obviously not the results that banner advertisers are looking for. So what would Google do? For a long time now Google has been integrating paid, text-based advertisements into web pages in an unobtrusive manner that actually serves as a useful tool. Google uses its superior search algorithm to insert just the right type of ad into a page that will be related to the user’s quest for information. But these aren’t really the same as banner ads. It doesn’t exactly take a designer or a flash artist to come up with a Google adword box.

For the answer to banner ad dilemma, lets look to the advertising world outside the web. In the early days, CocaCola used to give out free awnings and signs to bodega owners that sported their logo. These were unobtrusive, useful tools for building brand awareness. There are countless examples of other campaigns that utilized imprinted coffee cups, umbrellas, pens, etc., to build brand awareness. The method is simple: get people to know your brand, and associate it with the product or service you provide.

Surprisingly, few banner ad campaigns utilize this philosophy. A banner can have one simple purpose:  build brand recognition. Try this for your next banner ad campaign. A clean, concise banner designed to simply associate your logo with the service you provide. Don’t make it flashy, don’t even put a click here button. Try to make the banner integrate seamlessly with the site where it is to be published. Submit this banner to a site that charges per click rather than per impression. Since you only pay every time someone clicks on the banner, you will get massive amounts of free brand awareness.

I will be the first to admit that his proposition has a very selfish hidden agenda. Much like many other web users, I hate annoying banner ads, and would like to see them wiped off the face of the World Wide Web. My only hope is that some banner ad gurus will take this suggestion and turn it into a superior banner ad campaign that succeeds by enhancing our web browsing experience rather than annoying it. Perhaps it will be so successful that others will follow in their footsteps, until in the distant future, we might experience a web browsing experience that is free of annoying banner ads.

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