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Sep 07, 2006
How To

ALERT: How to Lift Response Rates for Email Newsletter Ads

SUMMARY: Are you running ads in third-party email newsletters or in your own? According to MarketingSherpa research, 22% of marketers say their newsletter ad results sagged in the past year.

We wondered if this might have anything to do with images blocking and preview pane usage. So, we contacted eight major agencies to ask how they are advising clients on this front. Here's what they told us:
If you've been following MarketingSherpa for the past month, you'll have noticed we've been covering the topic of email preview panels and image blocking fairly heavily. (Link to some articles below.)

Frankly, we're wondering why other press and analysts aren't also sounding alarm bells.

As we've noted, studies indicate that more than half of Outlook users use the preview pane to read part -- or all -- of their incoming email messages. Yahoo and Hotmail are also in the process of adding preview panes for users.

In addition, many email clients, including popular versions of Outlook, Gmail and Lotus Notes, block HTML from appearing unless the recipient overrides his or her defaults. When it comes to software defaults, most people don't bother to deal with them.

These two trends add up to two situations that should alarm email newsletter advertisers:

#1. Your HTML ad is being blocked

If your ad is entirely HTML (such as a banner), tens of millions of potential viewers -- especially in the at-work demographic -- are not able to click on your hotlink. If your ad is an image, then they may see a little red X instead.

They probably don’t fret too much about this because after all, they can see the text of the stories in the newsletter and click to read more, and that's why they opened the email in the first place.

Unfortunately, there's no measurement device that shows you how many images are being blocked or which recipients can't click on your ad. There is no "sniffer."

Worth noting -- some advertisers have been putting text ads in HTML format to evade Gmail Adsense ads targeted by direct competitors. If your ad is in HTML but just looks like text, clicks will still be disabled.

Plus, if your ad uses underlined text as a hotlink, rather than spelling out the URL of hotlink itself, that hotlink won’t be clickable.

#2. Your ad is outside the fold

This problem is entirely attributable to preview panes, whether or not HTML is blocked. The fact is, preview panes ipso facto show only a small corner of the email message. Anything that's not in that corner is "outside the fold."

Just as with content on Web pages that's beneath the fold, the likelihood of your ad being viewed is lower. Unfortunately there's no measurement device that can tell you how many people could not or did not view your ad when they looked at the email in preview.

Many email newsletter publishers divide their content into a templated format that's roughly the following:

Top: Logo plus HTML banner
Left Column: Story headlines and summaries
Right Column: Stack of vertical ads

In both versions of the preview panes in Outlook, that right column tends to be outside the fold, either partially or entirely. Result? Readers don't see your ad.

What eight major agencies placing email ads told us …

Over the past three weeks, MarketingSherpa research staff contacted eight major interactive advertising agencies in New York and San Francisco with significant accounts placing email newsletter ads (among other media.)

We contacted them via email and then followed up by phone. Multiple times.

Unfortunately, not a single one would go on the record with a recommendation, or even any type of comment, regarding how they advise their clients on creative and media buys that works best to evade HTML blockers and preview pane folds.

They simply had nothing to tell us.

Hollis Thomases, who heads, a smaller but highly reputable firm in Baltimore, MD, was the only exec to respond on the record. She noted that her creative and media buying team have been aware of the problem:

"For the most part, when it comes to email newsletter advertising, the publisher controls where ads are placed/located and sold, not us media buyers. Publishers have been less flexible with how they'll change their newsletter ad placements or ad types than even their Web pages.

"We haven't been asking for or even offered email newsletter ad placements based on optimized preview pane placements, however," she continues, "We're just happy if a publisher with the right audience for our buy even has an email newsletter in which we can carry advertising."

MarketingSherpa also contacted Loren McDonald, Chief Marketing Officer at J.L. Halsey, who initially headed research efforts into preview pane usage last fall, for his take on the matter. McDonald advised as we do that email advertisers start:

o Testing text-only ad creative including a spelled out URL click link instead of HTML when possible.

o Asking for a two-placement, putting an HTML ad as well as a text message in an email newsletter issue. "SmartBriefs is a publisher that allows advertisers to do this."

o Requesting ad positioning in the left-hand column if not at the top of the newsletter (the top is frequently sold out as well as being more expensive -- although perhaps worth it.)

However, he agreed with Thomases that the real fight advertisers have on their hands now is an educational battle with the publishers. Often email newsletter templates are decided on by a graphics or production department who have not been given any guidance from ad sales.

It's time for media buyers and major advertisers to speak out.

"I did a best practices session for 60 editors in New York recently," McDonald notes. "I showed them how their own newsletters appeared in the preview panel with images blocked. 'Would *you* open this? I asked. I beat them up, and they loved it." Rest assured those editors are meeting with the design department as we speak.

With advertiser pressure and meetings, we can bring the rest of the newsletter world around.

Good luck and please let us know of your progress so we can share it with the rest of the email newsletter advertising community.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of newsletters

Past Sherpa Articles:
‘Why (and How) You Should Redesign Your Email Templates for Outlook, Hotmail & Yahoo Immediately’

'Case Study: Sierra Club Tests Radical Email Newsletter Redesign to Improve Preview Pane Viewing'

J.L. Halsey Corp.

See Also:

Comments about this How To

Sep 07, 2006 - Chris Escalante of Ogden Publications says:
"Worth noting -- some advertisers have been putting text ads in HTML format to evade Gmail Adsense ads targeted by direct competitors. If your ad is in HTML but just looks like text, it will still be blocked." Do you really mean that all HTML ads are being blocked or do you mean all image based ads. Text inside of HTML tags (any text in an html newsletter I assume) would in turn be blocked as well correct?

Sep 07, 2006 - anne holland of MarketingSherpa says:
Yes, you're correct. Images such as gifs and jpegs will be blocked as will graphical hotlinks. Anything in the HTML ad that's not an image will still appear. Sorry for the confusion :-)

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