Bigger ads: Big profits, big irritation?

A screen shot of the ESPN homepage


Kai Ryssdal: You know all that extraneous stuff that shows up on your computer screen when you're reading an article online? We call it annoying. The Web sites call it advertising. And they know most of us just block it out, which isn't so good for paying their bills. Today a trade group that represents sites like the New York Times and ESPN, and a whole mess of others, introduced three new kinds of banner ads that are designed to stay with us for a while. Marketplace's Brendan Newnam reports.

BRENDAN NEWNAM: They sound like the nicknames for a football defensive line. There is the "The Fixed Screen," "the Pushdown," and the "XXL." In fact, they are the new offensive strategy for marketers.

Pam Horan is the President of the Online Publisher's Association, the trade group behind the new ads. The bigger the ad she says the more space an advertiser has to tell you about a product.

PAM Horan: What that does is provide a larger format for that marketer to engage the consumer and have that brand experience right there on the page.

Online publishers are also fighting what they call banner blindness. Emily Riley at Forrester Research says that's when consumers see so many ads they start blocking them out.

EMILY RILEY If you have a big, beautiful ad from a good advertiser right in the middle of a page then you are forced to pay attention.

But Internet surfers don't like being forced to do anything, so advertisers are hoping these ads will capture viewers' attention without annoying them. And if the consumers don't like it?

RILEY: It's a very unique time with the economy being so low. I think all of these sites are looking for ways to entice advertisers to spend more. They might be a little less sensitive to consumer backlash as a result.

In other words, be prepared to be annoyed.

In Los Angeles, I'm Brendan Newnam for Marketplace.

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"We call it annoying. The Web sites call it advertising. And they know most of us just block it out, which isn't so good for paying their bills."

Big Words for someone whose site and salary is subsidized by tax dollars.

If the online advertising is annoying or doesn't work, the advertisers wouldn't pay for it. Plain and simple.

But they do.

You find it annoying, but not enough to stop going to the sites that support themselves with it.

Not everyone gets to suckle the Government teat. Some of us work for our revenue.

"It's the content, stupid." The problem with online ads isn't the size, or the placement on the web page. It's the nature of the ad itself. I remember years ago when a major computer maker starting launching Java ads on CNN.com. The ad was an enticing "game" motif, making a little "ping-pong" sound no matter where on the site's page you were reading. Pretty annoying. God help you if you accidentally just moused over it on your way to the navigation menu, the ad would go hyperactive and make MORE sound.

That wasn't the worst of it. I noticed that my browser was using 100% of my CPU ... until I killed the Java banner ad. Flash and other hypermedia are not much better. They have become quite sophisticated, and superb at packing a lot of content into a small file. But the cost of RENDERING the ads is on YOUR pc's CPU and RAM, and if you're also trying to work over the company P&L spreadsheet or finalize a 200-page PDF document, too friggin' bad. The banner ads soak up your systems' resources, even if the browser window is minimized into the background.

The current spate of ads that chase my mouse around the screen, or slide into view, covering up the very content that I'm trying to read, are the pinnacle of “user hostile” behavior. I've seen a few banner ads, badly placed just below the Flash interactive menus, that appear IN FRONT of the menu, so you can't even navigate the site. No kiddin', I couldn't reach a firm's "Contact" page because their slick ad was blocking the only way to click through to it.

When advertisers bleat that their ad placements aren't delivering, ask a random user to look at the ad. Chances are, the ad itself is destroying the site's usefulness. Think that's worth paying for?

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