Many of the reports about these developments as they happen, however, have been read more like grousing about this ad format or that ad format rather than any sort of praise for innovation. Not because these creative developments are bad or lack innovation. It is because the ads are seen as being "intrusive."
We've all heard this before. The first daughter-window ads were feared for their being too intrusive; Interstitials and Superstitials; same thing: intrusive. Want to run audio in your online ad? Intrusive. Animated GIF 89's back in the old days? Intrusive.
With an ever-increasing number of online ad formats to choose from, and the growing sizes those ad formats come in, publishers are faced with the challenge of preserving value of their property in the eyes of their users while still opening the doors to new ways of luring advertisers with interesting and captivating methods for reaching those users.
Unlike most media, the individual user is ultimately in control when online. The content comes and goes as he or she sees fit. And, unlike general market media, the user can actually "talk back" to the providers of the content they engage. And talk they do.
With the individual actually being in control of the medium he or she is using, the possibilities for advertisers to get their messages out to the masses are subject to the more random forces of human capriciousness.
This means there is a greater challenge for advertisers when trying to reach their intended audiences because audiences are no longer captive. This challenge then belongs to the media vehicles carrying their messages, so long as a media vehicle wants to be fiscally viable.
A publisher has to walk a line between providing the best user experience possible to remain a regular and relevant destination for people while at the same time accommodating advertisers who are interested in speaking to that audience and by which the publisher pays the bills.
Concern is often expressed that the kinds of advertising that marketers are most interested in running cross over into the realm of the intrusive and can hinder the user experience and thus drive that desirable audience away.
This may be true in part, but if there is content a user really wants to get at, are they really going to find a new place to go for that content? That was the warning the early priests of online used to tell the unwashed tribe as they huddled around the fire, warming themselves against the dark. It is in essence the same argument against subscription services on the web - if we make them pay to come, they won't come anymore.
That might be true for the existential protagonist, unable to make a decision about whether or not he is for or against, but not for the committed user. If content is valuable to you, you will do what you must to engage it. Obviously there are different limits for different people as to just how much one will cope with to get at different content. But are a couple of Eyeblaster units on a site really going to drive users away from sites like ESPN.com or Yahoo!? Unlikely.
This does not mean, however, that publishers shouldn't do everything they can to keep that user experience as good as it can be made.
What kinds of things have publishers done to strike this ephemeral balance?
Well, frequency capping and setting limits to the number of advertisers who can have their ads be of a type that may be seen as interruptive or intrusive are some ways this can be done.
Truth of the matter is that, when pressed, what most people find painful about their experiences on the web as they pertain to advertising isn't the fact of advertising, but the frequency with which it is encountered. Frequency control on such "free-floating" ad formats is by far the most important thing one can do to keep the user experience from degrading as a result of advertising support.
Part of the user experience is the user knowing what to expect. Another aspect of user frustration when encountering advertising on a web site he or she is visiting is being confronted with an intrusive ad format when it is least expected.
It would seem that the conventional wisdoms of good marketing and appropriate targeting of advertising, when applied, result in that balance between a positive user experience and giving the advertiser what they want. If an individual receives an interesting and relevant ad message at a time while they are engaged in interesting and relevant content, both sides are happy. The user has been presented with information that might be useful to them and the advertiser got their message in front of a prospective consumer while that prospect was in a receptive state of mind.
Another way to keep a positive user experience while providing value to an advertiser is to actually make advertising part of the user experience.
Fun and interesting - and INTERACTIVE - creative units can go far with transmitting a marketer's message while at the same time actually enhancing the user experience.
It is important that we all keep in mind, both as users and publishers, that when striking the balance between the user experience and advertiser value, if it is done right, a successful media business is the result.
Those sites that want to make a living as an ad vehicle are going to have to find a way to strike a balance between the quality or service users visit for and maintaining an environment advertisers want to pay to be in. The unspoken contract between users and their media is that to have it, there are going to be ads. Some of those ads are going to be intrusive.
It is important to make the distinction between three methods of garnering attention: annoy, intrude, disrupt. Remember those old Molson Golden radio ads, or the Country Crock TV ads, with the faceless couple that engages in droll and inane patois, like some dime-store version of Mike Nichols and Elaine May? Those were annoying. IntroMessages running on CBS Marketwatch or the those Salon.com DayPasses are intrusive. The X-10 pop-unders were disruptive. Two out of three are acceptable (you guess which ones). But all of them work. It is up to the publisher, working with their audience, to figure out just what kind of site it wants to be.