Online Display Has A Spam Problem

  • by , Featured Contributor, April 28, 2011

I've written about this before, but because I haven't seen much progress, I feel the need to repeat it. The online ad industry has a spam problem with its display ads that it needs to fix  -- or the industry is going to see its growth stop with major brand advertisers.

Why is it that you can't get through your daily Web browsing without being inundated with a significant amount of irritating ads? Sure, maybe the experience is a little bit better -- or no worse -- than it was two or three years ago. But one would think that after 15 years, Web sites, advertisers, agencies and technology companies would have done a better job creating user experiences on Web media and information sites  -- and, specifically, would have found a way to remove more of the bad, blinky, flashy ads that have irritated us since they first showed up in late 1995.



To me, this is online display's spam problem, not unlike what the email marketing industry faces and has faced with email spam. There is no barrier to entry to buying display ads. Anybody with a credit card can buy them. And, since the cost to buy exposures is so cheap -- lots of inventory out there at CPMs under 50 cents -- even one low-budget advertiser has the ability to annoy millions of millions of people each day.

Since the vast majority of online display ads are purchased, measured and optimized with a results-focused mentality, delivering ads that create the desired action in .01% of all exposed users can represent enormous success for most direct marketers,  the buyers of the vast majority of online display ad units. Do they really care about the 99.9% of users who were spammed? Unfortunately, too few do. Worse, too few others in the online ad ecosystem do either. Money is money. It pays the bills.

Fortunately, there are some developments in the market that can help stem this tide. They include:

Bigger ad units. It may seem counterintuitive, but the moves by the IAB, OPA and publishers like Aol to introduce bigger ad units, which might make you think that some marketers will just make their annoying ads that much bigger and more annoying, will actually help attract more brand advertisers at better ad rates,  squeezing out some of the bottom-feeding direct-tesponse advertisers and the oversupply of small ad units.

Super-rich media. Companies like Pictela, Vibrant and others are providing advertisers and their agencies with more robust palates to develop better ads, and are also helping drive up the value of the units and the quality of advertising that they can carry.

Stricter standards at publishers. The move that sites like Gawker, Aol, and many others have made to link the introduction of new ad units with the removal of bad ads is making a difference.

Brands monitoring ad creation. It has been proven time and again that better online creative produces better response from audiences. Brands and their agency partners need to work together more closely to assure that what the public sees reflects well on the brand, especially in programs designed for social media.

Will these efforts alone solve the spam problem? I'm hopeful, but not very optimistic. I suspect that as direct-marketing sensibilities (focusing on the results of a few, not the irritation of the many) drive the strategies of most of the online display ad market, things won't change. What do you think?

8 comments about "Online Display Has A Spam Problem".
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  1. Gerald Nichols from Tech Media Network, April 28, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.

    I am not sure that bigger ads will help in the long run unless they remain too expensive for the direct marketers to use.

  2. Myles Younger from Canned Banners, April 28, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.

    I would agree with the sentiment of Gerald's comment. Direct marketers could also consolidate themselves (in a number of possible ways) to overcome any media buying hurdles. That's really the rub: direct response marketing is profitable...otherwise it wouldn't be so popular. If there's a profit to be had, someone will find a way to make it happen. It's also a bit harsh to lump all non-brand advertisers together as 'bottom feeders' or otherwise eligible for being purged from the ecosystem. That's simply inaccurate on a number of levels. Lastly, to say "There is no barrier to entry to buying display ads" is an overstatement in my opinion. For an average small business owner, there are relatively few choices for buying display ads on a self-serve basis. I wrote a whole column on the topic for ADOTAS back in January:

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 28, 2011 at 6:09 p.m.

    I think there is an appreciable increase in selfishness, narcissism and greed all over. One of outcomes is spam.

  4. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 28, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.

    Another and I believe faster way to eliminate this issue is to standardize web sites to run only two (IAB) ad units above the fold on every single page view and then sell "pageview roadblocks" to one advertiser at a time. This would dramatically decrease the impression supply inviting in this inferior creative, while increasing the branding value online display can deliver.

  5. Ned Newhouse from Conde Nast , April 29, 2011 at 8:32 a.m.

    I have two comments on this matter. 1. As a marketer buying display across the largest network I was shocked at the level of pushback when I requested a 2x frequency cap during a 3 day period. Their max was 3x each day. They wanted to burn through my cash ASAP, even though performance would suffer. 2. I get the fact that you can now opt of network cookies and the reasons behind it, but what about being able to opt out to a specific advertisers? While I know its technically challenging, I wish "Ad Choices" or something would work in this way. IT'S IN THEIR BEST INTEREST TOO. Why do I and the marketer want to barage me with their ads with 30 days of retargeting as I just went to their website for cust service? Or perhaps I will never have any interest in ever buying a product, why would they want to waste even their 50 cent cpms on me? In any event networks could then craft better adv based on my interests because of my opt outs.

  6. Peter Minnium from Iab, April 29, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

    Thanks, Dave, for calling attention to this under-rated barrier to getting big brand advertisers and their big budgets online. Tv networks close hundred million dollar deals over lunch with a handshake based on the quality of their editorial environment which they painstakingly protect. In the majority of the web, by contrast, we allow nearly anyone with a credit card to ad their content.

    I am a big fan of a close button on ads ( like the new iab billboard). At the very least it gives the viewer a sense of control even if they choose not to even bother to close a poor or poorly targeted ad

  7. Yvonne Divita from BlogPaws, April 29, 2011 at 10:56 a.m.

    Oh please. Honestly... when we are STILL inundated with annoying paper DM ads (especially those sent by banks)...why do you expect online ads to be different? Why do we expect the people who create, approve and benefit from ads...print or care HOW the receiver feels when stuck with these forms of advertising? Online and print are both missing the boat, IMBO.

  8. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, April 29, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.

    Yvonne, Agreed. It is very important that online display ads transcend direct mail in both relevance and lack of annoyance. They are being placed in the middle of media that the users are consuming, not in an envelope that is understood from the start to only contain commercial communication. I would hope that the creators would care more.

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