Are we really blind to Internet banners?

Is this ad a waste of time?

It’s a line of research that Google doesn’t want you to know about. Many studies suggest people have a habit of simply ignoring web banners on Internet sites – a phenomenon known as banner blindness. The evidence for this ad avoidance is based largely on tests of people’s explicit memory of ads after they’ve browsed a site. Of course that doesn’t mean that the participants hadn’t looked at the ads, nor does it mean that the ads hadn’t lodged their message subconsciously.

Now Guillaume Hervet and his team have attempted to address these points in an eye-tracking study. Thirty-two participants read eight web-pages about choosing a digital camera. On the third, fourth, seventh and eighth pages, a Google-style rectangular text ad (180 x 150 pixels) was embedded in the right-hand side of the editorial content. The second ad was different from the first, and then the same two ads appeared on the seventh and eighth pages, respectively. Also, half the participants were exposed to ads that were congruent with the camera topic of the web-pages; the other half to incongruent ads. All advertised brands were fictitious.

The results may be of some consolation to Google and their advertisers. Eighty-two per cent of the participants did actually look at one or more of the ads. Or put another way: of the 128 ad exposures, 37 per cent were looked at once or more. Had the ad content made a lasting impression? To test this, after the browsing phase, the participants attempted to read the same ads presented in varying degrees of blurry degradation. Their performance was compared to a new group of control participants who hadn’t done the earlier web browsing. If performance was superior among the participants who’d earlier been exposed to the ads, this would suggest they had a lasting memory of the ad content. In fact, performance was only superior for web-browsing participants who’d earlier been exposed to ads in a congruent context.

Another aspect to the results is how the participants’ behaviour changed over the course of the web browsing. The first and third ads were looked at for longer than the second and fourth ads. This is probably because the second and fourth ads appeared on pages that had been preceded by a page with an ad on it in the same location – the participants seemed to have learned to ignore that area of the page. On the other hand, it seems a couple of pages without ads was enough to restore ad-looking behaviour.

The lessons for web advertisers are clear: don’t advertise on every page, vary ad location, and make sure the ad topic is congruent with the web-site content.

ResearchBlogging.orgHervet, G., Guérard, K., Tremblay, S., & Chtourou, M. (2011). Is banner blindness genuine? Eye tracking internet text advertising. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25 (5), 708-716 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1742

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

7 thoughts on “Are we really blind to Internet banners?”

  1. Yes that's so. In particular, the pop-ups that are very annoying tend to be closed quickly and regulars know beforehand and act accordingly. Companies like banks who use pop-ups for fraud alerts may as well stop wasting their time. We get used to the first thing we see – it's perceived as an obstruction and so it's switched off immediately.
    Regards Coinneach Shanks

  2. I am always a bit surprised more people do not use pop up, ad and tracker blockers. I am no geek but found out how to get rid of the annoyances.

  3. I quite agree. For me there are one or two pop-ups that still crop up and have to be allowed to view the site. there's one I have to switch off several times a day. Maybe thats another line of inquiry. Why do some people like to click a lot more than necessary!

  4. I find the Pop-up ad as irritating as the next guy. As has been seen when irrelevant things distract us it creates a dislike for what has interrupted us. Now they are mainly linked to tacky/untrustworthy sites, why do people persist with them?

    I think internet advertisers have become lazy, as have the viewers. If it is not something related to what were doing, it causes more harm than good. More internet advertising is taking on an “engaging” approach which to me just make me look for the mute or pause button all the faster. I hardly look at the advert but rather the best way to stop it.

    One good idea ive heard lately is a rather sleep-eprived lecturer said he was searching random things on google, upon clicking the skip ad, the advert changed into a “Sorry to bother you, maybe next time, or visit our website in your own time”. He says he cant remember whether this happened or he imagined it, but if its out there, a brilliant ad. Upon clicking skip ad, he would of let his guard down, and the added touch would capture the attention of the viewer.

    On the internet were overwhelmed with advertising, marketers should pay more attention to quality rather than quantity.

  5. “Given the close relationship between eye movements and attention, the measure of eye movements in an unavoidable tool in order to examine if an ad has been under the focus of attention during a website visit and for how long it has been processed.

    Eye movements are a superior banner metric to clicks. It measure's how your ad is performing as a billboard.

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