March 21, 2017

Advertising Chart: The types of ads consumers dislike the most (and the least)


In October 2016, we asked 1,200 customers what they thought of different ad types ranging from online pop-ups to print ads.

In this week’s MarketingSherpa Chart article, we take a closer look at that data.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

While planning MarketingSherpa Summit 2017, we conducted consumer research with 1,200 consumers who were sampled to reflect a close match to the U.S. population's demographics. One of the questions we asked them was:

In general, which type of ads do you most dislike? Please order the following ad types from most disliked (1) to least disliked (13).

To see 28 charts from the study, download the free report.

Online pop-ups and mobile phone ads are the most disliked advertising types

We asked customers to rank all ad types from 1 (most disliked) to 13 (least disliked). Of the 13 ad types we asked consumers about, online pop-ups and mobile phone ads were the only channels to have more 1’s than any other ranking. For example, 27% of consumers put online pop-ups at the very top (1), and 14% ranked it as the second (2) most annoying ad type.

Online pop-ups had a mean ranking of 4.52, followed by mobile phone ads’ 5.65.

Print ads least disliked

Print advertising in newspapers and magazines was the least disliked advertising type, with a mean of 9.01.

Challenge for digital marketers

Traditional channels were all disliked less than digital channels. This matches our discoveries about which advertising channels consumers trust when making a purchasing decision exactly, with all traditional channels more trusted than all digital channels. (The biggest difference between trust and dislike was seen in pre-roll video ads. They were the seventh most trusted advertising channel, but the third most disliked ad type.)

This consumer attitude towards digital advertising presents a challenge for digital marketers. Some elements of digital marketing that make the channel so popular — it’s trackability, targeting, interactivity, mobility and low cost thanks to greater inventory — are also its Achilles’ heel compared to traditional advertising.

So, what is a digital marketer to do?

This data offers a window into consumers’ thought processes. Here are a few ideas for challenging your digital advertising status quo based on consumers’ disdain for online pop-ups and acceptance of newspaper and magazine ads. And to help you put the customer first, I included many insights directly from consumers in their own words that we collected in the survey.

Digital marketers must bring credibility to their ads

A print ad will likely add credibility to a message due to limited inventory, higher cost, and the trustworthy content on the surrounding pages as compared to online pop-ups and mobile phone ads, which will likely detract from that credibility.

As one respondent said, “Every issue should be addressed as to whether the company is a scam or real. Any ads that pop up [are] annoying to me.”

So, look at your advertising — consider how to add credibility with the messaging and images in what may be a very small space. Can you leverage third-party credibility indicators? Testimonials? Quantitative data to back up your claim? Customer reviews?

Increase value and decrease cost of the ad itself

In this case, I’m not talking about increasing the value and decreasing the cost of the actual product or service you’re selling (although, obviously, that helps overall.) I’m talking about the ad itself.

The book Beyond Advertising by Wharton’s Catharine Hays and Yoram Wind and Chris Arnold, the creative director and co-founder of Creative Orchestra, says, “Today’s ads now compete not just with other ads, but millions of moments of entertainment from professionally made work to home videos…How different would we approach advertising if we actually had to sell it? It’s a brief I often set students, to produce an ad, using any medium, that the public will pay for.”

An ad can create value with its utility — for example, informing a customer about something they didn’t know about before but would be interested in. Or it can actually provide a monetary value. As one respondent explains, “I really like to read ads in print such as in newspapers. Coupons are great for advertising products!”

While online pop-ups are often used to distract, one advantage an online pop-up ad could have over a print ad is to use that technology to synchronize with the customer’s motivation by delivering value at just the moment a customer desires that value. For example, a pop-up ad offering a discount on the delivery of warm soup on a weather website just as a customer learns about a cold winter’s day. Or a pop-up on an ecommerce site offering live chat help.

This value is especially important for online pop-ups and mobile ads because they have a much higher cost than print — not in terms of media buying; I’m talking about cost to the customer.

For example, The New York Times reported that mobile ads burn through smartphone battery power. And there is also the cost of the friction that online pop-ups bring to the customer experience. The top reason customers block online ads is because they dislike large ads that pop up over the entire webpage.

Customers were very frustrated by these costs, telling us, “Keep ads in expected places — don't try to interfere with a user doing something else, like trying to send a quick text or navigate a story online. Major turnoff trying to stop or get rid of pop-ups. I will go out of my way to not buy those products”; and “anything that slows down loading is really annoying”; and “pop-up ads are horrible. Not only do they invade and irritate, many times they lock up the page or article. If a company uses pop-ups too often I am much less likely to deal with them in any way.”

So, in your digital advertising, identify ways to decrease the cost of the ad to the consumer while increasing the value.

Increase joy and decrease annoyance

Other elements of cost and value are joy and annoyance, but they are so large in relation to digital ads, I’m calling them out separately.

An enjoyable purchase experience is a key differentiator between how satisfied and unsatisfied customers view marketing.

Can you bring more joy to your ads? One respondent suggested, “I also find a lot of ads too serious. Unless they are about medication or other very serious matters, companies should integrate more humor into their ads. But online pop-ups and video ads are just screaming to be disliked. Funny TV, radio or billboard ads are the way to go in my opinion.”

To build on the cost factors described in the previous section, can you decrease the annoyance of these ads? One consumer vehemently expressed, “Video and pop-up ads are the worst!  They cover the content of the web page I'm trying to read; they slow my computer down; and they are usually not relevant to me. Also annoying are any banner ads that repeatedly flash. If I had epilepsy, I would be dead by now. I don't, but these flashing ads give me a splitting headache.  A flashing ad says, ‘Look at me! I am a completely untrustworthy ad that is trying too hard to get your attention, because whatever I'm selling you is crap!’”

Advertisers that use motion do so for a reason. It grabs customers’ attention. But what is the end result? A satisfied or an alienated customer? If you’re using motion, you may want to test it against less annoying ads and see the impact that it has all the way through your funnel. As one customer said, “It is very irritating and is the one black mark against [company name]. In general, I find online advertising that involves motion very annoying. One website I frequent often has ads off to the side that involve repetitive motion, and it honestly makes me dizzy and distracts me from what I am trying to do online.”

But wait, don’t leave the article yet. Lastly consider pop-ups that try to keep customers on a website. As one customer said, “I would just like to not see those ads that pop up on a site that start with ‘no wait ...don’t leave,’ and then it is hard as heck to leave their site. I would love to see them banished.”

Put the customer first with your advertising

Why can alienation of customers through advertising be so detrimental? It can be intermediate-metric-wise but ultimate-metric-foolish.

That is, your intermediate metrics (more clicks, lower cost per acquisition, better trackability that allows you to attribute revenue to a specific channel, while other untracked channels might also have had a key role) might mask the harm these actions are having on your ultimate metric (i.e. profit).

According to our research, by practicing customer-first marketing you are less likely to produce unsatisfied customers.

Because when you don’t practice customer-first marketing, they notice. Like this customer who said, “Make it less intrusive. Pop-up ads make me feel like the company could care less what I'm trying to do; their ad should take priority over everything.”

Related resources

Learn more about better communicating credibility and value in the University of Florida/MECLABS Institute Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program

Online Testing: How a pop-up chat test increased conversion 120%

Marketing Chart: Which advertising channels consumers trust most and least when making purchases

Digital Advertising Chart: Why consumers block online ads

Credibility: 9 elements that help make your marketing claims more believable

Wharton’s Catharine Hays is a featured speaker at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 in Las Vegas, a conference focused on inspirational stories of customer-first marketing

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