Overcoming The Unpleasant Stigma Of In-Text Ads

In the movie "Pleasantville," there was a social stigma attached to anything that represented change, or that failed to measure up to a pre-defined idea of what was, well...pleasant. For the citizens of Pleasantville, pleasant meant roads that don't go past the city limits, colors that don't vary from the approved palette, and books with no controversial ideas.

If we fast-forward from that black and white Mayberry-like town set in the '50s to our current online media culture, we see new stigmas developing just as quickly as we dismiss old ones. Such is the case with in-text advertising.

If we were to adapt the standard definition of a stigma to the online world, it might read something like this: The phenomenon whereby an Internet technology contains one or more attributes, which are deeply discredited by Internet users, and is thereby rejected as a result of those attributes.

So what are those attributes that Internet users and some publishers find such disdain for with regards to in-text advertising? I recently conducted an informal market research survey to gauge people's attitudes towards in-text technology to find out what they liked and/or disliked about it.

It didn't take long to discover that there was a predominantly negative stigma attached to in-text, and that there was one primary reason for the negative perception. More than any other attribute or feature, users and publishers are put off by the invasiveness of it-text ad technology. More specifically, they "hate" the fact that the ad automatically launches on a mouse-over (when their cursor moves over a highlighted word).

There were some additional issues that were common among the survey participants such as the lack of relevance of the ad or content in the in-text window, and the fact that it generally doesn't provide much benefit to the end-user.

Changing Expectations

We've established that the negative stigma exists. Now the question becomes, "How do we reverse it?" The only way to overcome a negative stigma is to make a concerted ongoing effort to change expectations.

When you see a highlighted word with a double underline and an icon on a page, what's your typical first reaction? For most people, you move your cursor to the far left or right side of the screen to avoid setting off all those in-text land mines embedded in the page. In some cases, however, moving your cursor to the side will unwittingly launch a series of flash ads that completely overtake the page or initiate a multimedia ad which blasts out an audio file as you race to find the volume icon on your desktop.

In order to change users' expectations about in-text technology and remove the stigma that currently exists, there are two simple solutions to consider:

1. Change from mouse-over activation to click activation. The unwanted and unintentional launch of an ad from a mouse-over is the largest irritant for Web site visitors. By simply requiring the visitor to click on the link in order to launch the window, you overcome the largest hurdle for in-text acceptance. If visitors click on the link, it also indicates that they are intentionally searching for more information on that keyword, as opposed to accidentally launching a window because their mouse was in the wrong place.



2. Provide contextually relevant content in the in-text window. Some in-text products show the same ad or content regardless of what keyword it was launched from. While the repetition provides the advertiser value from a branding standpoint, the visitor begins to associate all in-text links with irrelevant ads. If in-text providers feature more relevant content and/or advertising, visitors would find value in the application and be more inclined to click on the link to view the content in the in-text window.

If in-text applications adopt these two features, the industry would go a long way towards changing visitors' expectations and overall acceptance of in-text technology, removing the stigma that currently exists. Wouldn't that be pleasant for those of us in the in-text industry?

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