Have you ever noticed how Web banner advertisements go to extremes to get your attention? I have seen such crazy tactics to get my attention when I’m surfing the Web that sometimes I can’t help but laugh (or cry)! But as a designer, and a human being, I often find myself not laughing or crying—but instead becoming annoyed with the flashing banner ad that interrupted me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all banner ads were created to annoy. Many of them effectively promote and advertise a company’s products or services. I’m talking about the many ads that feature tacky typography, cheesy graphics, and silly imagery that has nothing to do with the service or product that is being advertised. Come on, you know the ones I’m talking about.
So my question is: Are these ads with an alien hopping around my computer screen, a nun (with Obama’s head on her body) doing a jig, or the silhouettes of two dancing cowboys actually successful? Are people clicking on them and using the advertised services?
The shocking answer is…yes.
An article that focuses on the significant success of a company that is notorious for these annoying ads, LowerMyBills.com, helps to shed some light on the subject.
LowerMyBills is a lead generation company. According to Brad Stone of the New York Times, “They [LowerMyBills] take loan applications filled out by customers who click the ads and give them to actual lenders like Citibank, which pay the company for the referrals. The company’s success hinges on buying lots of low-cost ad space on Web sites and then persuading users to click.”
There’s no doubt that the business model works. Stone writes, “The surprising success of the ads led LowerMyBills to a significant payday: the credit agency Experian bought the eight-year-old company for $400 million in 2005.”
Is there a strategy behind the creative within these advertisements? Matt R. Coffin, Co-founder and Chief Executive of LowerMyBills, says, “Building a brand is often about being different, and we are always looking for new and innovative ways to attract the attention of consumers interested in lowering their bills,” he said.
According to Coffin, this strategy is very effective. The company tracks the performance of all its ads, and their metrics show that many of the banners are indeed successful at getting Internet users to fill out loan applications.
“If you keep seeing the same ads, that means they are working,” Coffin said.
Coffin’s point certainly does ring true. The design of these banners, however silly they may be, grabs my attention. But instead of clicking like many Web users, I find myself cursing and wondering why on earth people keep clicking. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I believe that an ad can be both attention-grabbing (to catch people’s eye) and well-designed—with imagery that actually reflects the product / service, clean typography, and fluid graphics.
Alas, as long as users continue to click on the dancing cowboys, we’ll still see the banners, no matter how annoying they are or how silly they look.
As a designer, this is a hard pill to swallow, but I’ll force it down while reminding myself that the world of advertising works in mysterious ways.