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What’s My Line

In a clever twist to the concept of online advertising, O2 have arranged for a banner to be towed behind an aircraft over London for three hours to welcome the England rugby team home. One of my lesser-known activities, it’s surprising how many companies are looking for new and different ways of reaching a mass audience outside of the regular and more expensive web, television and traditional print media, where the target audience is becoming increasingly resistant to ‘messages’ from advertisers.

Most of us, consider pop-up advertising on web sites to be the work of the devil, spam by another name and the evidence shows that when people can download the software that turns intrusive pop-ups off, they will and in huge numbers.

When business first started becoming excited over the Internet, it wasn’t for all the right reasons, such as information at one’s fingertips. We’ve witnessed the end result of the channel exploitation principle in the tide of spam which clogs our servers everyday but it was never meant, at least in principle, to be that way.

In the early days, we talked about tightly focused advertising, using the Internet as a medium that would only deliver the kind of information that we might be interested in. Instead, we have seen a betrayal of that promise, a lack or relevance, where many leading companies blanket us with adverts, like mud, in the hope that some of it might stick. Broadband even sees adverts that won’t pass the television watchdog, delivered online instead and much of what we see on the web today is both unsubtle and poorly targeted.

The ability to opt-out of both direct and online mail is creating a kind of desperation among businesses that once depended on carpet-bombing the population. Today, the only recourse is to be clever, original and possibly pay for ‘click-through’ search-based advertising, which is the most successful medium of all.

Last week, I heard of one large company that has created a popular online column for a pseudo-character. The site in question gives the appearance that the author is funding his newsletter with banner advertising and consequently, the readership doesn’t object. Perhaps they might, if they realised the truth. After all, how do you know that I really exist either?

Iain Janes Managing Director of says that properly targeted, online advertising can work but what we are now seeing is a “Very high rate of more experienced users closing down pop-ups and not even looking at banner adverts”.

Janes points to Eyetracker’s recent research, which examined the websites of The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Times Online. “In each of these cases”, says Janes, “You see the problems associated with online advertising. If you want people to look at your advertising, you have to design consecutively different styles of web pages, much like supermarket shelving principle, which moves everything around the store just as you become used to where everything is".

This same principle of behaviour can be extended to the Internet, because users have learned to navigate intuitively away from the advertising and the results of the eyetracker research on leading websites demonstrate this conclusively.

If Iain Janes is right, then using the Internet may one day become as taxing as shopping at the supermarket. Just as you become used to where everything can be found on your favourite website, the layout will be changed to maximise the advertising effect or the annoyance to the visitor, depending on your perspective.

Me, I’ll leave my own website as it is and instead, I may help pilot the occasional banner around the M25 at rush hour instead and if you see the welcome home for the England Rugby team over London, don’t forget to wave.


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