Here’s a quick thought exercise: think of your five favorite ads — TV commercials or print. Odds are, you can recall them quite quickly. Mine, for example, in no particular order: MJ and Bird McDonalds’ “Nothing But Net,” VW’s “Darth Vader,” Budweiser’s “Frogs,” Absolut’s print ads (so many of them!), Coca-Cola’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”
But I can also recall TV commercials that aren’t good: Derek Jeter’s Ford commercials; Toyota’s “Saved By Zero” come to mind; as do all the local commercials I get. (Fiberama, you’ll be pleased!). We’re also in the holiday season, so I remember commercials of yesteryear — “Every kiss begins with Kay,” the Lexus December to remember ads — that are still played today.
Now think of five banner ads. How about five native ads?
The point is this: those TV commercials aren’t just good content; it’s that these commercials were played over and over again, on many different networks at many different times. Digital advertising has a repetitive problem. Or, more accurately, its problem is that it lacks repetitiveness.
Advertising works because over time, a brand’s message is drilled into our brains. Research has proven this out. For example, Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, found that “direct exposure to repeated ads initially increases a consumer’s preference for promoted products, and why the most effective advertisements are the ones consumers don’t even realize they have seen,” according to this Science Daily article.
Advertisers buy digital ads across multiple sites, buying banner ads that can slide into the NYT or WSJ or Slate. But reading an article on the Web is a different activity than watching a TV show. Ads adjacent to online content don’t interrupt the reading experience. Instead, they get pushed to the background. TV commercials, however, do interrupt. This is why what publications like Quartz are doing — inserting big ads in between stories — is promising for advertisers (and why Quartz can command $80-90 CPMs).
The promise of native ads — ads that are designed to “look” and “feel” like editorial content — is that they can bring the branding mechanism advertisers crave to digital media, something banners haven’t been able to do. Marketers can’t tell a story in a 350×250 ad unit.
But for all of the creative possibility of native ads, they, too, have a repetition issue. If I come across a piece of advertiser content solely created for that publisher, I’m going to click once and then be done with it. Sure, 15 Inanimate Objects that Look Like Human Beings brought to you by Campbell’s Soup on BuzzFeed is cute. But I’m only reading it once. Whereas I’ve seen the VW “Darth Vader” commercial so many times on different networks (let alone all the earned media from the Super Bowl run). My recall for ads, content, that are shown over and over again, increase.
Though there is research, conducted in 2006 by two market researchers Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart, which found that an ad presented multiple times on one medium is less effective than one message delivered across multiple media.
Consumer habits are changing. There are more places to get content — on TV, on the Web, on the radio, there are an infinite amount of channels. But digital advertising hasn’t figured out a way to answer the repetition part of the ad equation. And that’s something marketers have to figure out. Seeing an ad once (or not at all if you have banner blindness) just won’t cut it.