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.

Get Ready for the Endless Political Campaign …

New forecasts about political advertising have just been released. They confirm what many of us have suspected: The political campaign season, traditionally defined every two years by the presidential and off-year congressional election contests, is morphing into one gigantic mega-campaign that basically is with us all the time.

Instead of the nice breather we used to get from political advertising after the campaign season ended, it’s becoming one long, never-ending experience — some would say nightmare.

And if this surprises you, consider the past year alone in U.S. politics. First, there was the inauguration and the early fight over the economic stimulus package, with many political ads run pro and con.

This was followed by the health care debate which attracted an even bigger volume of advertising – probably because there were even more special interests involved. That initiative also sparked the Tea Party rallies and town hall meetings, which became fodder for still more political posturing (and paid advertising).

In the midst of the health care debate, along came the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as the “circus sideshow” in Upstate New York’s special congressional election where the Conservative Party candidate forced the endorsed Republican from the race – another opportunity for all sorts of campaign spending.

And just about the time the health care debate finally came to a vote in Congress … the Christmas Bomber shows up – still more fodder for paid political advertising, this time on national security.

As the year 2009 ended, when we thought we were over with politics for at least a few short months, out of nowhere comes the Massachusetts special election for senator that attracts millions of dollars per day in contributions over the Internet and sparking – you guessed it – beaucoup bucks in paid political advertising.

And this past week, when the exciting Superbowl and extreme weather events should be dominating the news, what’s prominently on our TV and cable channels as well? The Tea Party convention in Nashville, capped by an announcement that this group is forming a campaign political action committee to raise millions in funds to — of course — run new candidates for office.

More politics … more money … more advertising.

Of course, all of this is great news for local television and cable stations, which can snap out of their torpor and pocket a ton of new dollars in advertising revenues. In fact, media research and analytical firm Borrell Associates is predicting that U.S. political spending of all stripes will hit a record $4.2 billion in 2010.

Helping this along is the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifts restrictions on corporations and gives them the freedom to buy political advertising. Borrell estimates that this ruling will add ~10% to the total pool of funds this year.

It seems hard to believe that 2010 – a non-presidential election year – is on track to break 2008’s record for political spending, considering the huge amounts of advertising that were done by the McCain and (especially) the Obama campaigns in 2008. But the prognosticators insist 2010 will be the biggest year yet for political spending … to the tune of $1 billion more than in 2008.

What role does online play in all of this? The Internet is expected to account for less than $50 million in advertising revenues in 2010 – a comparable drop in the bucket. But growth will be very strong in this segment – not least because the web does a very good job of bringing in more campaign donations! The bottom-line prediction: Internet advertising will likely double to reach $100 million for the presidential campaign in 2012.

So the endless political campaign continues endlessly on … never ending … world without end. What fun for us!