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New survey pops up to show reaction to online ads

Sliding billboards are in and floating animations are out. At least they will be if advertisers follow the responses of most USAToday.com readers who participated in a recent survey that measured their reaction to four of the most common types of online advertising.

USAToday.com, in conjunction with Vividence, a customer-experience measurement firm based in San Mateo, Calif., conducted an ad effectiveness study last fall to help USAToday.com shape its advertising policy. The survey results, which were not released in detail publicly, will also help USAToday.com give its advertisers information on the best ways to reach the site's more than 30 million online readers.

With marketing budgets still squeezed, Web-site designers and online publishers are taking a closer look at how people react to certain types of advertising. Online advertising is expected to change its look and mission as advertisers and publishers try to make sure their sites appeal to visitors.

"It's a tough economy, and obviously we want to generate advertising and be at the forefront of creative advertising," says Laryssa Kundanmal, director of sales solutions for McLean-based USAToday.com, the online version of the national newspaper. "It's also important to retain the readers we have."

USAToday.com surveyed 200 readers, many of whom were frequent readers. Using a special browser companion that tracks users' attitudes and behavior, the Web site asked users to perform a number of tasks during which they were exposed to four different ad formats.

The survey looked at reader reactions to interstitial ads, which pop up as a separate page while a person navigates between Web sites and disappear unless clicked on; floating ads, which move across an open Web page's content; pop-under ads, which open behind a Web page in separate browser window; and sliding billboard ads, which stay on the screen for about three seconds and then close.

Sliding billboard ads, which are also commonly used by Amazon.com, were the favorite of USAToday.com survey participants. That type of ad performed the best in generating an intent to visit the advertiser's site and research a product or service further, according to Kundanmal.

Pop-under ads - distinguished from the pop-up ads that appear on top of an open Web page - were the second most preferred ads.

Users in the survey didn't like ads that cover content or force them to click through to reach their destination. However, the most hated type of online ad was floating animation, which survey participants said was the most intrusive. Those ads led to a negative reaction to an advertiser's product or service.

Other online publishers acknowledge that advertising has to do more to get people's attention these days.

"It's no secret that clearly the biggest change over the past three years has been the slow decline of the viewer clicking on an ad," says Ted Ryan, vice president of partner services for the Motley Fool, an Alexandria-based financial Web site. "The expectations have changed and we have to do more things."

Online advertising, he says, will take on a more media-rich format with additional audio and video incorporated into ads.

USAToday.com is not the only organization with new research on attitudes toward online ads.

A consumer survey of more than 2,500 adults, conducted in December by the Gartner Group, a research firm based in Stamford, Conn., found that pop-up ads were the most intrusive.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents called pop-up ads "very annoying," according to Gartner.

Negative consumer sentiment about pop-up ads has inspired online service providers like America Online and Earthlink to ban them from their sites, according to Gartner's research.

Even so, the number of times pop-up ads are appearing on Web sites increased from 1.2 billion in January 2002 to 4.9 billion in September, according to Gartner.

The Gartner study further points out that pop-up ads are still being used by advertisers because of their high rate of click-throughs. However, the study points out that some consumers may be accidentally clicking on the pop-ups because they don't know how to get rid of them. The click-through frequency could decrease as people become more savvy.

Because of the higher click-through rates, larger size, and advertiser demand, most pop-up ads cost at least twice as much as banner ads, according to Gartner research.

Banners - ads of various sizes and shapes that are displayed within the Web page - fared better in the Gartner survey, with 49 percent rating them "very annoying." Interstitial ads were considered the least bothersome, with 43 percent calling them "very annoying."

Gartner concluded that sites should adopt the interstitial ad format since it is less intrusive to the viewer.

Posted on aef.com: March 4, 2003.


Tania Anderson, Washington Business Journal. February 28, 2003

Copyright © 2003 American City Business Journals, Inc.. All rights reserved.