The prices that people are paying for online display ads are collapsing. Which is a pretty obvious indicator that they don’t work.

But why don’t they work? Well, here are some purely practical reasons from a few of us who have worked to create noticeable ads for years.

  1. Online media are generally terrible places to put ads. Most sites that take ads, take lots of ads, so you’re competing in the sort of cluttered, busy environment that the human brain has trained itself to ignore.
  2. The ads are too small. When we advertise in a static medium like a magazine, we’ll buy the biggest space we can afford. It’s been proven to pay for itself, since the ad is more likely to get noticed. It also gives the message space to breathe. The online environment generally squeezes display ads down to ineffective sizes where they become invisible.
  3. So should you run an ad that beeps and shouts for attention? Only if you want your reader to hate you forever. Ads that shout put people off. Perhaps because online advertisers are embarrassed by the smallness of their offering, they often compensate by being louder. As with certain men under similar circumstances, it’s all very off-putting.
  4. The context is rubbish, too. To advertise a B2B product, you want to be where buyers are going when they’re thinking about B2B products. A page on Facebook is not the right environment. And so far, good B2B online media remain vanishingly rare.
  5. One of the great promises of online advertising was that people would enjoy clicking on your ads and ‘engaging’ with your brand. But people have hated advertising for at least 100 years. If anything, they hate it even more now it’s online. The job of advertisers has always been to overcome that innate resistance. Then, and only then, might they start to engage.
  6. Online ads can be blocked. Ad blockers are now available for almost all browsers, which very quickly strip away all your ads anyway.
  7. Last but not least, eye-tracking studies confirm that even without the automatic blockers, the human brain does a very good job of screening out anything that even vaguely resembles advertising.

So have online display ads ever worked for us? Well, yes – when delivered solus in a relevant industry newsletter, or an email.

And, of course, there’s no more important online display ad than your own website.

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