Why online ads no longer work at persuading internet users

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Annoyance and disdain are just two of the emotions many users experience when a giant, flashing banner appears above their internet content. Why is it that these adverts no longer drive customer interaction?
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For most of us, willfully clicking that big, flashing banner at the top of an internet page would be considered sacrilegious. Not only is it often in the way of the content we wish to view, but many of these ads offer unrealistic promises or aggressive pitches. In a world where information is king, clicking on unsolicited banners can prove an uncalculated risk, as these ads will often take you to entirely new sites. While these are some of the main factors driving consumer aversion to internet advertisements, the real cause of avoidance runs somewhat deeper. Knowing why people don’t click is only half the battle though; with unused advertising space accounting for potential lost sales opportunities, how do companies or websites capture their audience’s attention in a way that they trust and understand?

 

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WHY DO PEOPLE AVOID INTERNET ADS?

All internet users have seen some form of online advertisement. Banners, pop-ups, buttons, paid text links, or even email ads. Upon their initial conception, some 14 years ago when the first advertisement banner appeared on a website, intrigue drove the majority of clicks. Fast-forward to the present, and click-through rates of online advertising across most industries sit at an average 0.5%. Even with all the users that now have access to the internet, the projected ROI from banners and ads is simply not enough to sustain sufficient interaction.

 

Even with all the users that now have access to the internet, the projected ROI from banners and ads is simply not enough to sustain sufficient interaction.

 

This shockingly poor click-through rate has become the topic of much debate and research, with many studies undertaken to understand the root cause of this aversion to ads. A study published in the Journal of Advertising found that of 3 factors tested, the most prevalent reason for users avoiding ads was “internet clutter”. While some users might still click on an ad if the offer is relevant to them (accounting for the 0.5%), the overwhelming majority avoids ads that impede their ability to view content—especially those that are irritatingly large, bright, or ill-placed. Much like junk mail received through the post, online ads are perceived as a hindrance to the goal of the user, and therefore, people will avoid or ignore them altogether.

 

PERSUASION HAS BECOME MORE DIFFICULT

As the most active social group on the internet, college students have largely been the demographic used to study online behaviour. Now, nearly all demographics have a better handle on the online world; and with this knowledge comes an improved skill set for avoiding temptation, like that displayed in the form of sales banners or ads. This avoidance is supported by what’s defined in The Journal of Consumer Research as the persuasion model.

 

This avoidance is supported by what’s defined in The Journal of Consumer Research as the persuasion model.

 

As we develop experiences throughout our lifespan, we start to understand what factors or triggers influence our decision-making. Differing depending on culture and generation, the process remains the same. Users avoid ads because they are seen as clutter or irrelevant. Those users then pass their experience onto family or friends who do the same. Because we know that internet advertisers place banners to try and persuade us to buy their product/service, users develop various means of avoiding or removing them. Our ability to be persuaded adapts over time, until we have ways of managing that persuasion.

 

USERS HAVE BECOME MORE ADEPT AT GETTING WHAT THEY WANT

With bright, flashing banners no longer a sufficient means of persuasion, the majority of users have devised or incorporated methods of removing adverts from their internet experience. Achieved through a multitude of means, this includes avoiding sites with ads entirely, installing ad blockers, visiting sites outside of a promotional offering, or saving links to go directly to the site one wants. Not only do internet users have a greater understanding of how advertisements can be avoided, but the power of the internet also provides us with a better means of establishing whether or not we want a chosen product. The use of social media and reviews means that any outlandish offer can be immediately fact-checked and researched. This has diluted the power of advertising.

 

IF INTERNET ADS DON’T WORK, WHAT DOES?

In short, internet ads don’t work—nor do they generate a feasible ROI. The power of persuasion once held by this now-antiquated practice has been replaced by informative and targeted content. Blogs, articles, detailed product descriptions (with customer reviews to support them), and exposure across social media platforms have generated substantially improved click-through rates in comparison to the adverts of old. Our persuasion model has become elaborate enough that we now need to understand the “why” behind products, and what real-world gain will be seen from their purchase. Bespoke content offers a means of doing this, without the negative connotations of online adverts or the perception of clutter that has switched off nearly all internet users.