With Ads, Pretty Is as Pretty Does

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recession_lemons_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — My agency has made a big push in 2007 / 2008 to leverage the content networks to provide new incremental sales opportunities for our clients. Essentially a new play on banner advertising, the content or contextual networks, allow you to go beyond traditional PPC text ads and create visually appealing graphic banners. These ads then display on related subject matter websites, such as news sites, content portals and blogs. Having been founded originally as a web design / development company back in 1995, we still have strong design chops and love an opportunity to flex our creative muscles. However, we have found that sometimes it is making your ad not stand out that will help you win.

While ads are a necessary and accepted part of a website by most, they are typically slotted immediately as just that. To overcome this, all sorts of widgets, games, puzzles, videos and other elements are embedded to make the ad stand out even more. Stroll though Yahoo and a Ford is likely to drive across the screen while you play Tic-Tac-Toe inside a Dove ad. Sure, these engagements are valuable and all of these elements help in the branding process, but the venue plays a big role in supporting the delivery of the message.

With the content networks, things are a bit different. This audience is more focused. They are reading about your industry, researching options, and in general, consuming specific types of content about a specific subject matter. It also goes beyond search. These people did not just look for your product or service. In cases where the subject matter of the page is very specific and targeted, we’ve found that unobtrusive banners that appear to be an integral part of the page often work best.

Imagine you’re on a tech related blog getting the latest info on new IT security threats. What are you more likely to respond to, an ad with beautiful graphics including professional product photography that introduces a new security software suite, or a simple ad with an appealing yet toned-down color palette that says click here to view the latest threat matrix and most recent security threats? The latter often outperforms.

The key is understanding the behavior of your audience as it relates to the specific sites you are targeting. In other words, what are they doing there? What are they looking for? The more specific you can be in what you put in front of them and the more it relates to the content they are already consuming, the more likely they will be receptive to your offer and respond to your ad.

And it is for this reason that we say design for the sake of beautiful design does not always equal maximum return. Sometimes, simple, clean and to the point wins the day. So as usual, test, test, test and see what works best!

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