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, NYTimes.com 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?