It’s become a big issue for discussion in media of late but that doesn’t mean the problem is going away. What are we going to do about the intrusive, interruptive nature of CPM-driven online advertising?

This struck me while browsing a few national and regional newspaper sites recently. The overall design of these products has improved markedly in the last five years. The investment in digital content is huge and there is good stuff to read and view. But still, sites are littered with attempts to interrupt and distract the reader from that content.

This includes everything from autoplay video ads, rollovers, popups and flash animation ads to the ever-popular homepage takeover, with sidebars that follow the reader’s gaze down the page. MailOnline makes in excess of £45 million a year from this kind of thing:

Annoying ads feature: MailOnline front page

This is from the Evening Standard site today:

Annoying ads feature: front page

Then there is the popup, this one coming from Local World’s Hull Daily Mail companion site… (I had to turn off my popup blocker to see this)

Annoying ads feature: Hull Daily Mail

I could go on. There are many other examples, these publishers are by no means the only ones worth singling out (please email me with any more).

But even if the CTR increases because of these approaches is the final result really the best outcome for the business and for the client brand? As Buzzfeed’s VP for strategy, Jonathan Perelmann, put it to us earlier this year:

Banner ads have been around 18 years, and we have debated the value of a banner ad for 18 years.  We made a decision early on to not accept them. It would have been a lot easier as all the advertisers do it – it’s efficient, it’s easy to buy.

We don’t think banner ads work, and more importantly they are being ignored. And if you look at the stats for banner ads on mobile, 40-50 percent of clicks on mobile banner ads are mistakes.

It gets dismissed as the home of animated animal .Gifs but Buzzfeed has taken some $46 million in funding to date, so a lot of people are convinced its approach is the right one. Instead, advertisers are invited to write posts

Buzzfeed example of a featured partner sponsored post

From display to native

There are a lot of innovations in this area. The annual IAB Rising Star awards in the US and UK recognises the most effective and interesting new online formats. 

Adtech startups are changing things too. Guy Cookson runs Respond, which provides native advertising formats designed to placed contextually within articles. He started Respond to solve this problem (we first featured Respond in 2012) and the New Statesman has just signed a deal to serve the text-based ads as have several others, in agreements that aren’t being announced yet.

“I’m sure in 10 years’ time we will look back and ask how this happened. It is unsustainable,” he tells me.

“Print had a monopoly on attention. But what’s being forgotten now online is that when we’re reading the Guardian site it’s a very different mindset to reading another site. We’re trying to really tap into publishers’ brands.”

For Cookson, “it’s come to the point where we have to ask: ‘Where can we go from here?’ We can’t just keep filling pages with crap.”

On sites with autoplaying ads, he asks: “How does this engender the desire for a repeat visit to the publisher or any sense of goodwill leading to purchase intent for the advertiser?”

The company claims its own research shows the differential effect of native ads vs traditional formats. It’s hard to coroborate this and I haven’t seen the methodology nor the raw data – but if there’s a better result from less impactful, quieter advertising, that says something profound about what consumers really want.

Respond survey on affect of native advertising online

Adblock the adblockers?

An extreme reaction to the irritating nature of ads is to block them. A claimed 30 million people have installed Adblock, a simple but effective tool that makes ads disapear from your web browser.  Where there once was an MPU box, for example. Adblock turns it into a white space. Adblock Plus allows users to block or whitelist ads from entire sites.

Aparently US publishers are not bothered by this, with several big names telling Digiday it’s not a big problem, despite’s nonchalant admission that adblocking is used by “just under five percent of its audience”.

Whereas over in Germany, it’s real enough a threat for major publishers to plead with readers not to adblock – Der Speigel admits it’s used by 25 percent of its audience. The effect of the publishers’ anti-adblock campaign?

There is a way around Adblock of course: ban users who have it installed. A script called Adblockblock does exist and it is easy to use.

But in a string of events fitting of a 21st century Monty Python sketch, activists responded with Adblockblockblock, which disables Adblockblock! (thanks to Fabien for the tip).

Another way?

The direct response model of online advertising is skewing the function and form from branding to action. You can’t click on a TV ad, yet they still work and TV remains the most popular advertising medium with consumers in the UK.

No one is saying it’s wrong for these publishers to monetise their sites with advertising. But what if this brash, garish form of online display doesn’t work?

Main image via the million dollar homepage.