Originally planned on writing this article in May of 2015…things have a bit hectic which precluded me getting to it until now…a mere 19 months later.
The good news is that this information is still completely relevant.
Before we get into how to defeat banner blindness without the benefit of retargeting, let’s talk a little about banner blindness as well as retargeting.
Banner blindness is a condition in web usability where a site visitor, both consciously and subconsciously, ignores banner advertisements or items on a page that are perceived to be a banner advertisement. A more extensive definition can be found on Wikipedia and I highly recommend reading this study, High-Cost Banner Blindness: Ads Increase Perceived Workload, Hinder Visual Search, and Are Forgotten by Burke, Hornof, Nilsen and Gorman.
Online retargeting (both standard and dynamic) have, as a collateral byproduct, defeated banner blindness. Originally conceived to break the paradigm of placing advertising where your audience most likely will be (e.g. place ads on Field & Stream if you are targeting fly fishing enthusiasts) with a new model of placing advertisements on any site your target audience visits, when they visit (e.g. serving your fly fishing gear ad on USAToday.com’s financial section when the fly fishing enthusiasts are there). This of course is achieved via the online tracking of your audience.
So how did this overcome banner blindness?
It was accomplished with what Psychologists call priming.
Priming is exposing an individual to a stimulus and that stimulus has an influence on the response the individual has to a subsequent stimulus. In the online world the initial (priming) stimulus is created when you visit to a website or view a particular product. In addition to the visit priming you mentally, a tracking cookie has been set on your machine. The tracking cookie follows you and triggers the second stimulus, namely the advertisement you see, which was based on the site or product you viewed as the priming stimulus. The priming here frees up your mind to actually see the advertisement, which otherwise would have been lost to banner blindness.
Not Sure About This? Think About It.
It has only been in the last few years where you have heard people say “I get all these ads for stuff I already bought” or “what a coincidence, I was looking at tickets for Bruce Springsteen and then I got a saw a concert ad from Ticketmaster.” My guess is that you have experienced this yourself. These conversations did not occur before retargeting advertising went into play.
On a related side note, if you share a computer with a loved one you are looking to buy a gift for, retargeting can really ruin the surprise. Do some research on new skis for your spouse, get ready for ski ads to be all over your machine and the advertisers can't tell if it’s you or your spouse that are seeing ads.
Priming in the Offline World
The priming we see as a retargeting byproduct in the online world can also be obtained in the offline (AKA physical) world.
Example #1: Penn State PATH Advertising
In May 2015 while doing some professional reading on eCommerce Times. Something unusual happened, I looked at and took real notice of a banner advertisement from Penn State for their online degree and certificate IT programs. No I had not been on Penn State’s site or any other online degree offering website. But I did ride on the PATH system the day before, where I was primed.
The PATH is the subway service connecting New York City to New Jersey and like most subways has abundant advertising. On this particular day Penn State had done a takeover of my car with every available ad space taken by Penn State’s online degree and certificate programs. Unless they were completely distracted or consumed by something else, there is very little chance anyone would not at least be aware of them.
It was this offline advertising that primed me for the online advertisement on eCommerce Times. Additionally Penn State used a traditional marketing technique and placed advertisements on a site that clearly contains their potential target audience.
The screen shot of the online Penn State advertisement above is not the ad that I saw originally. The original advertisement I saw was much closer in design, look and feel than the advertisement displayed here.
My guess is that geo-targeting of the ad was also used to create a synergy between the online and physical world PATH buys.
I reached out to Penn State about these ad placements; my query went unanswered. So I may be giving them (or their agency) a lot of credit when it was just luck. My hope is they were actually deploying these tactics and techniques because it has the makings of really well thought through program.
Example #2 Print and Banner Ad Buy: National Publication
On a recent ad buy with a major national publication that combined print advertising and online banner advertisements, using similar techniques as described above. The guidance to the design team: ensure the digital ad and the print ad were as close to identical as possible.
Without disclosing the actual metrics, our click through rate (CTR) exceeded, by a very wide margin, the average CTR this publication had for similar ad buys. Further bolstering the success of these banner ads is that this publication's overall CTR for similar buys already exceeded the national CTR benchmarks.
Priming in the online and physical world works.