The open secret of online display advertising is that 99 percent of ads are never clicked. Even the best messaging falls prey to banner blindness. While direct response advertisers are exploring new units and buying tactics to reach consumers, there are still lots of questions about what major brands can do to ensure their messages reach an online audience.
It goes without saying that brands shouldn't be focused on clicks, but they shouldn't be focused on traditional display either. In fact, brands can put aside big, flashy rich media units like the IAB rising stars and instead focus their efforts on a tactic that has its roots in print media -- headline writing.
Headline advertising, or headlining, is the culmination of several factors. Consumers might skim past banners quickly, but their eyes still dwell on content. Building ad units that look and feel like content is a great way to attract eyeballs. Rather than having a consumer blow by a banner ad, advertisers can serve a brand headline immediately after an article or content, capitalizing on the consumer's rapt focus when they finish reading.
The headlines in this case may also be links that take a consumer directly to a brand page or ecommerce store, but the messaging should be focused on a clear takeaway that consumers will remember. For example, brands could deliver text links, within or below article content, that say, "Walmart Now Stocks Largest LED TV on the Market from Panasonic." This builds brand recognition for both the retailer and the manufacturer. Consumers know about the release of a new product, and they know where to get it, whether or not they click the link. Headlining tactics work with in-stream ads, as seen on Twitter and the Yahoo homepage, but they also work well in under-article links sections and content-style networks like Adblade, IndustryBrains, and Outbrain.
Good creative can go a long way in building a brand, and anyone who works in advertising (or watches "Mad Men") understands that. But online -- where banners are largely ineffective -- one could argue that a well-written, single sentence headline statement is more effective than a complicated graphical creative execution.
This is a proven tactic, after all. No one reads a full newspaper from cover to cover -- they skim the headlines. The same is true online, whether consumers are browsing news sites or Twitter. In fact, the rise of social channels like Twitter, with its 140-character limit, should already be pushing brands to deliver clear and concise text messages that stick in the consumer's brain.
Agencies are tackling the anemic click rates by experimenting with view-through tracking, and media companies like Facebook are putting a big push behind "View Tags" that show how seeing an ad leads to a conversion later. Our own internal research shows that consumers hover over content-style headline ads 10 times more than they do over standard display ads. If those are positioned at the end of content rather than the immediate top of the page, read rates are anywhere from five to 10 times more than standard display units.
Rather than sinking more money into banner ads that offer little return, advertisers need to explore new ways of grabbing a consumer's attention and remaining top of mind. Simple headline executions within or adjacent to credible content are a valuable way to inform the public. Whether it's JetBlue running 25 percent off in certain cities, or Kraft talking about a reduced calorie count in a popular product, consumers get the message -- whether they click or not.
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