July 12, 2011

Are Larger Ads Better?

The real answer is either "the jury is still out" or "it depends on a ton of factors" or "you should test them but can't draw definitive conclusions."

However, AOL would like you to believe the answer is "yes", through some groundbreaking research they have just released about their Project Devil efforts which culminated in something called the IAB Portrait unit.

The research was aimed at comparing the overall effectiveness of this new ad unit to some of the traditional display units advertisers typically run (specifically the 300×250 and 300×600). For some context, this new ad unit is much bigger than anything you've seen before on a web page. In fact, it takes up about 1/3 of the viewable page area. With that in mind, let's take a deeper look at the research findings. First, the method for the research:

The AOL/IPG study used groundbreaking analytical tools including eye-tracking to measure the visual interaction with the advertising, facial expression analysis to record micro-expressions as a determinate of engagement, and bio-metric bracelets to collect data on skin temperature and conductance, measuring the levels of user excitement when presented with creative messaging. The first of its kind to combine facial coding, bio-metric feedback, then use eye tracking to sync that data with the exact point on a screen where the eye was fixated, the study then validated these new forms of engagement tracking with traditional engagement metrics from a live media campaign and a Brand Survey through Dynamic Logic. The study focused on the display advertising effectiveness and brand messaging of three IPG clients from very different industries: Dodge, Verizon, and Zappos.


Second, a few of the statistics:

* Portrait units attract attention 35 percent faster than competing units, 81 percent more attention, and 95 percent more time in length of fixation.

* Live media metrics showed interaction rates rose between 4.5x - 7x.

* Users were 46% more likely to recommend the brand or product to a friend and 49% more likely to visit a brand's site or Facebook page.

* Purchase intent shot up 263% while the facial expression analysis showed the ads decreased negative emotions by 40%.

Whoa, again.

Here is my take on all of this:

1) If an ad is that large graphically, am I the only one who thinks "duh?" when it shows they attract attention 35% faster? OF COURSE THEY DO. They're freaking huge! Huge percentage increases in user engagement? Of course. "How the heck do I ignore this thing?"

2) The scientific method and ultra-impressive-but-not-really facial expression analysis thingy is a bit ridiculous. Why? Because the knock on display advertising in general is that it is TOO scientific (which I don't believe, but if it IS in fact too scientific, then why hang your hat on something so obviously rooted in confusing the heck out of people). Not to mention, I want to see whole numbers and raw data which backs up these percentages. Heck, I'd even love to be one of the subjects tested.

3) Speaking of: I haven't seen any data related to this study that shows volumes of data or any real numbers outside of percentages. The link in the press release was broken. What were the sample sizes exactly? How about any data closing the loop between purchase intent and actual purchasing? You want advertisers to change their habits based on facial recognition analysis of users and less frowns?

4) The larger ads clearly have a goal of inducing greater engagement and being more "interactive" to the user, two things brand advertisers like. If 33% of my viewable area is taken up by one ad, then again, of course there will be greater initial recognition of, and positivity about, the ad. What the study didn't measure (that I saw) was follow-up engagement. What happens when a user sees the ad a second time? More frowns or less frowns?

5) One has to wonder what the metrics look like for publishers. Basically, you're dropping 3-4 ad units to accommodate one unit. If you're a publisher that goes all-in on this, you better hope the economics back out - over the long term, not just initially.

My sort of summary response to all this is two-fold:

1) There are just too many holes and unknowns with this research/data, though the press release would have you think otherwise. There are still so many factors unaccounted for, and I've listed a few above. Are larger ads better? My answer is you cannot say definitively they are. That said, of course advertisers should welcome the new unit and test them accordingly as another piece of their marketing mix. Just don't throw the baby out with the bath water just yet.

2) The quotation I thought about after reading all this data and AOL's press release is from the movie Zoolander, specifically when Mugatu yells "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills." Users had less frowns when the Portrait unit appeared?!?! Advertising bigger is not necessarily better and this data might look sexy (read: wordy in such a way that a few people might be impressed), but in reality it still leaves out a lot of factors.

Are larger ads better? Sorry, not necessarily. But they should be a part of your testing and marketing mix.

Mike Sprouse is a Chief Marketer, Corporate Entrepreneur, Author and Philanthropist. He oversees and leads the team twice named "Marketing Team of the Year" by the American Business Awards. He is a recognized public speaker and marketing expert, having run every facet of marketing and corporate strategy for public and private companies. Mike is the author of the critically-acclaimed book, "The Greatness Gap", and is a frequent blogger on his website at http://www.mikesprouse.com.

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