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Banners to Scumware to Usable Marketing
Article by John
Advertising online is not going
away. Indeed, it is only going to grow. Unfortunately, most online
advertising is abusive and some marketing techniques are just downright
devious. Fortunately, there are ways to improve online marketing by
following some basic usability principles. By using usable marketing
techniques, both users and companies will benefit enormously.
Advertisements Are Not Going Away
If you listened too closely,
you would think that web sites depending on advertisements are all going to
die. You might also think that advertising cannot support web sites and that
ads will go away in favor of something else such as paid subscriptions.
Nothing could be more wrong. Advertising on the web is simply not
going away. It is a growing business. The growth trend might be long
term but the trend is certainly there and it is upward.
Right now, the problem is that
the online advertising market is not growing as fast as people expected and
more companies are competing for the same advertising money. However,
marketing money is still flowing. As Business 2.0 recently pointed out, the future
of web advertising is bright. I couldn't agree more. This is a big
business folks, we're talking billions of dollars here. It ain't going away.
Need more proof?
Bigger, Brighter, Louder -- But Not Better
Let's take a look back in time.
The first phase of online advertising was actually quite simple. The banner
ad was born and we started to see them on many web sites. Not surprisingly,
it took people a long time to get used to these ads. If you remember back
that far, people were outraged that ads were showing up. They detracted from
free web sites. Remember, back then, almost every web site was free and
clean and holy. How dare advertisers pollute our pages? Who cares if
businesses needed to make money? The web was free.
The first wave of web
advertising was really quite interesting. The first online advertisers
took a lot of bullets to get space on web sites. The advertisers were
trying to storm the beach with limited troops and only a few weapons. Taking
the beach was not easy but money was spent and more ads started showing up.
So, time passed and people started to accept banner ads. But the acceptance
came at a terrible price to advertisers. People started to ignore banner
That was the actually biggest
problem of the first wave. After getting people to accept banner ads, people
started to ignore them. While ads became a fact of life, they were seen as a
necessary evil. Furthermore, they only worked at first because they were
novel and therefore interesting. People are weak when it comes to new
things. People clicked on banners and advertisers were happy but people also
quickly learned to ignore them. Advertisers were somewhat shocked to find
out about banner
The second wave of online
advertisers decided to increase their use of brute force marketing. They
reasoned that if people ignored advertisements, then the solution was to
make the ads bigger, brighter, and louder. In many cases, this meant that
the second wave of advertisers used things like Flash advertisements.
Unfortunately, the bigger ads are just more nasty versions of smaller ads.
For example, just a week ago, an advertisement literally floated
over the page -- over text, images, headers, labels, and other
advertisements. That's right, advertisements on top of other advertisements.
Pathetic! Second wave advertising methods are at least as bad as
first wave methods. What a shame.
The Third Wave: Devious
Online advertisers are
experimenting with "better" ways to attract and target viewers.
Advertisers are not going to roll over and companies will continue to spend
money. Web sites will continue to run ads and their objectives won't change
much. They want to get people to pay attention and they want to manipulate
This means that the
banner ad survive and we'll see more Flash ads too. Brute force works. It
might not work well, but it does work. Keep in mind that this is why you get
spam. If even 1% of the people answer spam messages, advertisers are making
money. Big money. Most advertisers without any creativity will employ
brute force methods and they will abuse users as long as they get some sort
of short-term positive result.
By the way, online marketers
don't like plaintext
email so they use it less and less. Instead they'll use HTML email and
they'll abuse our email accounts. HTML allows them to abuse
you. I suspect that we'll start to see Flash email before long
too since it can be made to do some wicked things to people.
Whereas the first wave of
advertisers "took the beach", and the second wave has used brute
force, the third wave is starting now, and they are extremely devious. The
third wave of online advertisers are very tricky, very sneaky, and, more
than ever, they are covert. They don't want you to know that you are getting
hit with their advertisements.
One way to be devious is to
pretend that you are not an advertiser. Many
search engines help these folks. They place advertisements near the top
of search results pages right along with legitimate results. Admittedly,
search engines are free and we have no right to complain. We might not like
this, but we can't complain too much because the service is free. Still, you
have to admit, this is devious. As a user, you think you are getting good
results. Instead, you are getting advertising. In many ways, this kind of
activity is similar to late night advertisements in the United States. You
think you watching a documentary or news report but what you are really
watching is a paid advertisement. Again, this is pathetic.
Unfortunately, some people are gullible and they fall for it big time.
There are definitely other ways
to be devious with advertising. We are seeing the emergence of a truly
wicked and devious advertising method. Here is how it works. First, you
download a free program. Many of these programs, such as Gator, which fills
out online forms and remembers passwords for you, sound great. On the face
of it, they provide a lot of value and they are free. However, during the
installation process, other programs are installed right along with the main
program that you want. The problem is that most people don't realize that
these programs are being installed. Worse, many of these programs are
installed behind the scenes so you cannot even opt out. Sorry, you are often
stuck with these programs.
But why are these hidden
programs so bad? Because they are used to spy on your activity, they send
information to advertisers, and they are used to push advertising on you. If
you are a web site publisher, they can drive visitors away, perhaps to your
competitors. In some cases, this software can convert a children's site into
an adult site by placing advertisements over your content. Some of this
software highlights words on your page, just like hypertext, which if
clicked, will send people to adult sites, competitors, and so forth.
Not surprisingly, many people
call these programs Spyware and Scumware. Some scumware is nasty,
especially if you are a web site owner or content publisher. What is
interesting is that a lot of people talked about SmartTags, and many people
were against them. But, several companies are already using this devious
advertising approach. TopText, for example, causes yellow hyperlinks to
appear under certain words on web pages. The words that are in yellow are
the words that have been sold to eZula's advertisers. Danny Sullivan wrote a
article about TopText, which you might want to read to understand the
Do you want to know more about
scumware? Do you want to detect it? Do you want to remove of scumware and
spyware from your machine? Visit these pages:
Small Changes, Big Rewards
If you want to raise awareness
of a particular product or service a banner ad isn't a bad idea. Don't
expect people to click on your banner, just expect to get the brand into the
minds of people. Even if most people ignore ads, some people will still
glance at them. Your money isn't lost. If users click on your banner, that
is a major bonus. If they do click, reward them with some huge
benefit; give them value. Have them associate value with your banner
If you want to be supportive of
a web site and you want to be associated with quality, I recommend that you
overtly sponsor content. That is, ask if you can sponsor a forum or
regular column or some useful web page. Ask to have your logo put on the
page with a small message. From your end of things, this is obviously
advertising but you are being somewhat passive. People generally think that
you are being a good and responsible company by sponsoring good content.
This is a subtle but effective way to advertise. I warn you not to abuse the
trust associated with the material. In other words, don't try to interfere
with the content and don't try to manipulate the web site behind the scenes.
Remember, be passive and let the web site do what it needs to do to maintain
a high level of integrity. You want to tap into that pool of
idea of sponsorships isn't new, but it is not used enough, in my
The ideas above are just common
sense when you get down to it. Don't be invasive, help people, and don't try
to do more than you should. Throttle your expectations. It will take time
and energy to build your brand.
Understanding Usable Marketing
But what is usable marketing?
What does it mean? Usable marketing is marketing that is user focused and is
meant to help people better understand a product or service. Usable
marketing is also marketing that is driven by usability principles.
Therefore, the marketing is obviously useful to people and it is obvious how
to act on the material presented. Usable marketing is meant to provide
people with free and clear choices. Any sort of closed or secret or
deceptive intent is not usable and is therefore rejected. Usable marketing
is not boring. Instead, it is elegant, exciting, and innovative. But not
being boring does not mean that you should hit people over the head with
your message or material.
Usable marketing is driven by
people that care about other people. When marketers put other people first,
there is a positive synergy. The company feels good, the customer feels
good, and a transaction happens.
Think about this. If banner
ads were actually useful , that is, if they really helped people and if they
had integrity, then banner ads would be an enormous success. If people
were getting what they wanted then banner ads would not be ignored! If
banner ads really provided value, then people would literally love them and
would seek them out.
Imagine being on a web site
about MP3 players and imagine that you were doing some comparison shopping.
Wouldn't it be great to find a product that helped you choose exactly the
right product? What if a banner ad pointed you directly at that tool. If
more banner ads were simple and honest, people would like them. Instead,
brute force methods are used and they are deceptive. No wonder that we
Pop up and pop under ads are
obviously not usable. Worse, they can harm
your brand. Not long ago, when they showed up, these kinds of ads worked
well, just like those giant Flash ads worked, and banner ads before them.
However, people quickly learned that these ads were basically browser spam.
That is term I'd like people to use because that is exactly what 95% of pop
up and pop under ads are. They are browser spam. They hit you with
useless information, the get in the way of your tasks, and they slow down
your experience. Rarely do they provide true value to people.
Usable marketing is about
helping users. It may or may not drive the next wave of marketing. In many
ways it is a philosophy. It is a way of marketing and it is a way of doing
business. I hope that marketing folks can capitalize on the ideas of
usability. As I have said on WebWord in various places, I think that some of
the better online marketers are learning. They will succeed.
If you can think of good
examples of usable marketing tell me about it. I'd love to give people
examples of marketing that is user driven and is focused on good
information. I'm looking for marketing with integrity. I'm looking for
advertising that helps people. Tell me