Do you think that on-line ads work?
Quick, name the last two online advertisements you've seen.
Too hard? O.K., name the last online advertisement you clicked on. (I mean
intentionally, not because it slipped under your cursor while you browsed
Can't think of anything? Being able to tune out ads might make your
Web-browsing more enjoyable, but it's a dilemma for online advertisers
struggling to find niches in the cluttered columns of their Web pages.
Online ads are fighting for air on the forest floor of the Internet, where
Flash images and written content soak up reader attention. Those rough
conditions have encouraged wide experimentation, with limited results. For
example, one innovation called the click-to-pay method only charges
advertisers when browsers click on their icon. But click-to-pay can be
expensive as much as $2 per hit and up to 50% of clicks are unintentional or
To be fair, online advertising has some advantages. Web sites have
extraordinary access to consumers, tracking clicking behavior and reader
attention-span to sharpen their ad target. Googles AdSense has been at the
vanguard of these reforms. But its contextual advertisements, which use keywords
to generate ad placement, can yield both accurate and absurd results. For
example, a Google search for Eliot Spitzer generates sidebar ads for The New
York Times (which broke the original story about the Governors scandal)
and Client T-shirts.
Contextual advertising makes search engines look like gold mines to ad
companies, but they're also raking in consumer ire and privacy concerns. The
backlash comes from browsers who think the data-mining and keyword-spying
constitute privacy violations. This has executives worrying that their
strength, easy access to consumer patterns and preferences could also be a
weakness if the counterattack has teeth.
None of this means online ads are entirely doomed. The technology is
improving and ad companies are learning how to target consumers better. But
online ads won't pay until they learn how to make us pay attention