Many online banner ads are “invisible” — just like all the other kinds of advertising.

poor online display ad clickthrough ratesI’ve blogged before about the dismal performance of web banner ads, with their miniscule clickthrough rates resulting from “banner blindness.”

The situation has caused more than a few marketers to shy away from engaging in any sort of banner advertising online — and it’s not hard to understand why.

But as Ben Kunz, a vice president at media buying and planning agency Mediassociates likes to point out, other forms of display advertising have similar challenges.

The fact that omnibus marketing information resource eMarketer has predicted that digital ad spending will increase to ~$132 billion this year is proof that many advertisers continue to see the value in online display advertising.

So what is Kunz’s major argument? Simply this:  Digital ads have the same challenges that television, radio and print advertising have as well.  In Kunz’s view, there’s huge waste in advertising because of advertising’s very nature.

He is correct. The vast majority of ad impressions that are “served” are never really seen or heard — regardless of the ad medium.

Ad visibility online is an issue for sure. Proving the point, internet analytics company comScore evaluated some 290 billion ad impressions on thousands of web sites … and found that ~54% of them weren’t visible.

There was some differentiation the comScore detected between different types of sites. Ads served up on “Ppemium” web publisher sites performed better (only ~39% of theirs weren’t visible).

Ads that aren’t visible occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is fraud (fake web traffic). But more often, it’s because of slow load times on digital devices or because the ads fall outside a viewable browser window or further down that page, necessitating scrolling that many viewers simply don’t do.

The Swedish firm Sticky has investigated banner blindness from another angle — studying the eyeball movements of ~500 subjects. Its research found that of the digital ads that do appear within a viewable window, only ~51% of them are actually “seen” by the viewer.

Mashing it all up, it means that roughly three out of four online ads are “invisible” to viewers. It’s a lot of waste for sure.

But then … what’s the alternative? Do other advertising tactics and channels actually do better?

Nope. According to Kunz, at least three out of four newspaper ads aren’t seen, either.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

Here’s how he arrives at that conclusion. The average U.S. newspaper has ~60 pages, with an average number of ads per page of around 20 (this includes large ads and smaller classifieds).  Around half of the pages are unopened when someone reads the paper, meaning that those ads are “unviewable.”  If half of the remaining ads are ignored as well, the viewability stats are effectively tied.

Kunz also contends that ~30% of radio advertising is “invisible,” citing an Arbitron study that quantified the extent to which listeners switch stations when advertising came on, then flip back later.

The findings were such that Arbitron started recommending that media planners change their measurement from 100 GRPs to 70 GRPs, reflecting the fact that ~30% of radio ads paid for never make it human ears.

TV advertising? It’s the same phenomenon.

Trips to the refrigerator or the bathroom abound during commercial breaks — not to mention channel flipping or TiVo-ing.  Kunz contends that such ad-dodging techniques reduce TV ad viewability by as much as 75%.

The bottom line on all of this: Waste in digital advertising is a significant issue … but it’s a similar issue with other ad vehicles as well.

Add to this the fact that digital advertising offers the best metrics (accountability for every click and conversion action), and it should come as little surprise that digital ad spending continues to grow (and why eMarketer expects it to reach about a quarter of all ad spending this year).

Does Kunz have a point about offline and online advertising sharing similar “blindness” characteristics? What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspectives with other readers.

Radio audiences: “Stickier” than you might think.

Radio audiences:  Stickier than you might realize.It’s a pretty common belief that when commercial breaks come on the radio, the audience scatters to the four winds.

And that view isn’t just held by laymen … those in the broadcast industry itself tend to believe that.

A study conducted by Arbitron, Media Monitors and Coleman Insights, released about six months ago, discovered that ad agency personnel believe that the typical radio audience is one-third lower during commercial breaks than during the lead-in.

Among radio industry personnel, those feelings are only slightlycloser to reality; they believe that the radio audience is about one-fourth lower during commercial breaks than during the lead-in.

In fact, a parallel study conducted by the same researchers found that these industry perceptions are way wide of the mark. Their evaluation, which covered nearly 18 million commercial breaks and ~62 million minutes of ads airing over a 12-month span on ~865 radio stations, revealed these interesting findings:

  • The average radio station aired 2.6 commercial breaks comprising nearly 9.0 minutes of advertising per hour.
  • The average break was ~3.5 minutes in duration.
  • On average, more than 93% of the lead-in audience stuck with the station during commercial breaks.
  • Longer spot breaks (4 to 6 minutes) still delivered ~90% of the lead-in radio audience.

These figures are significantly higher than the perception of industry observers. But one perception did turn out to comport with reality – the fact that older radio listeners are more apt to stay listening through the commercials than are younger listeners (~98% versus ~90%).

The study also determined that listening behaviors don’t differ at all between the different seasons of the year. But the audience for music stations is somewhat more prone to “wander off the reservation” compared to listeners of radio stations with spoken-word formats:  Fully 99% of the news-format radio audience stays on the station during commercials, while only ~88% of music format station listeners have the patience to stick around through the advertising.

The bottom line on the study’s findings is that radio is delivering audiences for commercials at levels that far exceed advertisers’ expectations.

So, the radio industry’s job is two-fold: Change the erroneous perceptions about audience levels … and also convince advertisers that the audience is actually listening and learning during the advertising breaks, not tuning out. 

This last bit may well be a lot harder to accomplish!

You can read more findings from the radio audience research here.