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Banner Blindness, double whammy on Social Media Display Ads

by Scott Hoffman on February 25, 2010

Banner blindness is a phenomenon in web usability where visitors on a website ignore banner-like information. There have been numerous studies done on this behavior, most notably, a study conducted in 2007 by Nielsen Norman Group. The study concluded Users almost never look at anything that looks like a banner display advertisement, whether or not it’s actually an ad. Banner blindness is exacerbated in Social Media, where banners get an average of 1-2 seconds of exposure before the user moves on to the next page.

The following heatmaps, from the 2007 study, show three examples that cover a range of user engagement with the content: quick scanning, partial reading, and thorough reading. Scanning is more common than reading, but users will sometimes dig into an article if they really care about it.

The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations. Green boxes were drawn on top of the images after the study to highlight the advertisements.

At all levels of user engagement, the finding is the same regarding banners, almost no fixations within advertisements. If users are looking for a quick fact, they want to get done and aren’t diverted by banners; and if users are engrossed in a story, they’re not going to look away from the content.

36% of the people studied did glance at the ads on the pages they visited — not a bad hit rate. The average time a person spent looking at an ad, though, was brief — one-third of a second. This study was conducted in ’07 before the rise of Social Media and it’s very high page refresh rate (and conversely low time spent on page.) The study goes on to say that even when a fixation within a banner was recorded, users typically didn’t engage with the advertisement. Often, users didn’t even see the advertiser’s logo or name, even when they glanced at one or two design elements elsewhere inside an ad.

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4 thoughts on “Banner Blindness, double whammy on Social Media Display Ads”

  1. BmoreWire

    I couldn't agree more with this. But your point about the creative being too expensive to produce…..not sure if I buy that. In the days of Mad Men all the money was dumped into the 'big idea' and the big idea delivered customers. There is no creative intelligence anymore and quite honestly, it's not even accurate to call most banners 'creative' these days. Creative agencies need to adapt to online and dynamic media processes. What Tumri and Terecent are trying to sell to creative agencies is flash script templating so that the Creative director can build a concept that is relevant and…..actually creative and has the ability to cut through the clutter and, well, actually be CREATIVE!

  2. scotthoffman

    Thanks for the comment. I am a big fan of Tumri – I think what they are doing is smart – my only lingering concern is that people still ignore the ads (and in the context of Social Media that is amplified) – my thoughts are around some of the bigger/fancier ad units that the Online Publishers Association announced a year ago…

    here is the press release

    I still have yet to see adoption.

    This is a great conversation, maybe together we can save the Display industry!

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