Online ads are turning off consumers—here's why
Some of the most common tactics used in online ads might actually alienate consumers and contribute to the public’s increasingly negative perceptions of advertising, a new study from Magna and IPG’s Mediahub has found.
Dubbed “The Ins and Outs of Ad Sentiment,” the report released today examined peoples’ feelings towards various aspects of online advertising including frequency, message content, targeting strategies and more, and found many simply feel “meh” towards online ads. While few actively trust and engage with online advertising, not many more oppose it, with the majority of those surveyed reporting indifferent feelings.
The study was conducted late last year among consumers in both the U.S. and Australia.
“We saw with this research that there is generally a negative, or sort of apathetic opinion towards online advertising,” says Kara Manatt, senior VP of intelligence solutions at Magna.
One of the biggest turn-offs for consumers of online advertising: heavy ad loads. With messages popping up back-to-back all day long, people report feeling harassed or annoyed—especially when they continue to be served ads for products they’ve already purchased.
Reducing the number of ads shown to consumers on a daily basis, coupled with improved targeting formulas, could boost overall ad sentiment by more than one-third, the Magna and Mediahub study found.
However, ad targeting is a double-edged sword, the study shows. Serving consumers non-targeted online ads often equals showing them irrelevant content, which tends to heighten apathy and disengagement; on the flip side, hyper-personalization or improper use of targeting can drive feelings of creepiness, making people weary of the offending advertiser. In addition, targeted ads that are aggressively product-focused tend to turn away consumers.
“Our industry’s tendency to deliver more and more ads is really backfiring,” Manatt says, though the issue is not so cut-and-dried. U.S. consumers who participated in the new study were twice as likely to cite overwhelming ad load as a driver of negative sentiments than their Australian counterparts, she says.
As of late 2020, when the study was conducted, just 12% of consumers reported believing that “online ads are good for society” and only 10% said they completely trust online ads; conversely, 17% said they’re bad for society and 28% responded that they don’t trust online ads at all.
It's the in-between of those numbers where the silver lining lies: The vast majority of people surveyed reported neutral feelings, meaning there’s lots of room for online marketers to make inroads with the public, Manatt says. “That’s really our opportunity to hopefully improve things, build consumer advertiser trust, and hopefully get people feeling more positive about advertising.”
In general, less is more when it comes to online advertising—creating more impactful, less frequent ads in a non-cluttered environment is what the bulk of consumers respond well to, she adds. Sponsored content also should be clearly marked as such to maintain strong consumer trust.
“The industry, and actually individual companies, should have a vested interest in lowering the ad clutter,” she adds. “It’s also something that we know will make their individual campaigns work harder.”
What is clear from the study is that there’s little consensus among consumers about what makes online advertising effective versus what makes it annoying.
Including music in online ads, for example, can be an engaging add-on for some consumers, although it’s a very subjective creative element that can just as easily be perceived as annoying—particularly when the tracks feature “pounding beats or screeching guitars,” the study says. On the whole, including music in an online ad is a negative factor.
Creating ads centered on current events was another point of contention among respondents. Brands engaging with such issues is a tactic generally looked upon favorably, according to the study.
But while acknowledging current events can help increase the entertainment value of an ad, doing so inauthentically can hurt an advertiser’s reach—as was the case when everyone and their mother jumped on the “we’re here for you” bandwagon during the first wave of COVID-19 last year, leading many consumers to tune out such messages.
“If it’s not authentic, it’s not going to work and it’s going to backfire,” Manatt says. “What we’re seeing six, eight months later,” after the initial rush of solidarity ads, she says, “is there’s a lot of brands that kind of jumped on that bandwagon and felt that they had to have a message related to COVID no matter what.”
And while consumers might not hold a grudge against any particular brand for serving that type of message, being bombarded by similar ads all at once is a turn-off. “Timing is almost as important as authenticity,” she adds.