Keep 'Attention Vampires' Out of Your Ads

Part One: How to Make Print and Online Ads That Engage

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Advertisers take note: It's not the old-school medium tripping up consumer engagement; it's the flashy creative.
Philip Sawyer, senior VP, Starch Advertising Research: 'The assumption that people who love their magazines are going to read the ads within it is not right.'
Philip Sawyer, senior VP, Starch Advertising Research: 'The assumption that people who love their magazines are going to read the ads within it is not right.'

Two studies out of advertising-research companies PreTesting and Starch Communications, a division of GfK, conclude that where your ad runs -- be it a high-involvement magazine, a highly rated TV show or a high-traffic website -- may not matter so much as "attention vampires" you've inadvertently planted in the creative that suck consumers' attention away from your brand or message.

Divest yourself of the belief that users' engagement with content in any medium determines their engagement with accompanying ads. When it comes to engagement, it all comes down to your creative.

Starch's study
Tomorrow, MediaWorks will look at "attention vampires" lurking in TV ads. But for now we look at some common missteps print and online advertisers make. According to Philip Sawyer, senior VP, Starch Advertising Research, engagement with a publication and engagement with the ads in that publication are independent of one other.

"The assumption that people who love their magazines are going to read the ads within it is not right," he said. "There are clear tendencies and principles about what draws attention to the ad, and those are the things that advertisers really ought to be paying attention to, and not thinking, 'I could throw any old ad in this magazine because it's a high-involvement publication.'"

Starch separated people who read three or four out of four issues and spent an hour to an hour and a half with those magazines from people who read one or two out of four issues and didn't read them so thoroughly.

Women's fashion magazines and enthusiast magazines -- publications people read in order to make purchasing decisions -- generally fall in the high-involvement category. Titles such as newsweeklies tend to be low-involvement.
Aquafina's bubble wrap ad
Aquafina's bubble wrap ad

Getting their attention
What does get readers' attention? For print ads, it helps to have an added element that takes readers beyond the confines of two dimensions. That could be something as simple as heavier paper stock or an unusual shape or size. Some advertisers have taken it even further, with tactile elements such as bubble wrap in an ad for Aquafina's new sparkling drinks or a sound chip in an Herbal Essences ad for shampoos.

"You are dealing with someone who is going through a magazine and reading it quickly and demanding that you grab their attention," Mr. Sawyer said. "You need to have one or two messages; a very simple, eye-catching picture with a powerful focal point; and then a message that answers that 'What's in it for me?' question. Body copy should be easy to read. ... The sort of cutesy font fabrications [don't] get readers' attention."

Other Starch studies for various online media outlets show an inverse relationship between engagement with an online publication and engagement with the ads that surround it: The more involved people are with the content, Mr. Sawyer said, the angrier they will be about ads that distract them from the task at hand.

Same principles
For both print and online ads, the principles behind high engagement are roughly the same: Keep it simple; show the benefit ASAP; use attention-grabbing colors such as reds, yellows, greens and gold; and employ contrast. For example, on websites with white backgrounds, ads with black backgrounds pop, appearing almost three-dimensional in comparison with their surroundings.

The study also looks at a new level of print-ad engagement: catalyst for word-of-mouth marketing. "The people who are most likely to look at an ad are those who have bought the brand and are loyal to it," Mr. Sawyer said. By getting into publications -- and possibly websites -- where consumers already are familiar with a brand, marketers help consumers confirm they have made the right decision. That confirmation may be part of what spurs a consumer to talk about the product with friends and recommend it.

You can request Starch's full "Myth of Reader Engagement" study here for free. Tomorrow, MediaWorks looks at PreTesting's study regarding "attention vampires" in TV ads.
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