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Blog, Communications, Media

Digital Advertising’s Repeat Problem

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.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


4 thoughts on “Digital Advertising’s Repeat Problem

  1. Yep. Frequency on digital is typically nothing like TV (although it can be controlled a bit with creative-based retargeting). And the second issue is TV spots are mini-movies, so comparing a small digital ad’s impact vs. 30 seconds of sound and fury is silly as well. What cracks me up is the antipathy that so many ad creatives have against banners, as if a small, flat format can’t work at all. Have they seen OOH advertising? Or direct mail postcards? Zappos launched its brand with tiny ads in the back of magazines such as The New Yorker. All of these are small, fleeting impressions, but if bundled together can work well.

    (Nice to find your blog.)

    Posted by Ben Kunz (@benkunz) | November 26, 2013, 12:05 pm
  2. There is no argument that even now Tv commercial influence consumers more than most kind of digital advertisements. Good TV commercials convey its message more convincingly and interestingly than most other advertising media, http://mjmmedia.com/video/ . Even annoying commercials make consumers think of the brand when a need arises for the product. The repetition of the commercials does play a role in creating such an influence.

    Posted by Richard Gonzalez | October 27, 2014, 11:32 pm
  3. I don´t get it…. You can target the same person again no ? If you retarget.

    Posted by Ondrej | January 19, 2015, 2:04 pm


  1. Pingback: What exactly is advertising | Advertising - November 28, 2013

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