Why are digital ads so annoying?

by Nigel Hollis | January 04, 2016

Millward Brown’s pre-testing data suggests that people’s reaction to advertising content does not vary much by channel. That makes me think that it is how the content is delivered that makes people dislike digital advertising more than other forms. People’s receptivity to advertising varies by context, and many digital ad formats violate what is considered acceptable.

Very few people in developed economies regard the idea of advertising positively. However, there is a lot of evidence that people dislike digital advertising more than most. AdReaction Video found that people were more favorable to advertising on live TV than digital formats. Autoplay and mobile pop-ups were the least popular formats.

If stated opinions are not enough for you, then the rapid rise in the number of people installing ad blocking software should confirm that many have reached a tipping point where attitude leads to behavior change. Some people are even paying to see ad-free content. Do you realize just how big a change that is? For years content companies struggled to get people to pay for news, movies, and music, and now people are paying not to see advertising. That’s pretty damning if you ask me.


So what is the root cause of the problem? Is it the content – let’s face it there are some pretty banal ads out there – or is it the placement, how the ad is delivered? To get some insight into this question we compared Link pre-testing results for digital and TV video ads, display and print ads. What we found surprised me. On average, there is little difference in response to any of the creative types. People were slightly more likely to voice a negative opinion about digital video ads than the other types, but not enough to point to a smoking gun behind the disenchantment with digital advertising in general.

To my mind this points to the way digital advertising is being delivered as the main problem. AdReaction Video suggests that it is the lack of control over advertising in an environment where the user expects control. Display ads can be avoided easily enough, but pop-ups and in-Read videos require action if they are to be avoided. They may be more ’engaging’ but they are also far more annoying, and create a negative perception of advertising in general.

 So what does all this imply for advertisers? It suggests that they need to pay as much attention to how an ad is delivered as what is delivered if they expect to maintain a positive relationship over time. It is no longer good enough to shrug and say, ‘That’s just the way it is done’. Why? Because unless changes are made to the way things are done today, it might not last. For more on this topic, check out ‘Blocked: Marketing in a post-adblockalypse world’ Meanwhile, why do people not like digital advertising and does it matter? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Mohtashim Abbasi, January 05, 2016
    Along with the issue of 'not having control' a key mistake that most brand managers mistake is treating context of ad watching on TV and digital as being the same. The consumer mindset with both media is different as well as their needs, therefore the creative on both media have to be treated differently a good TV ad does not work the same on digital. Digital ads needs to conform to the consumers expectations and needs on digital.
  2. Benson Agoha (Woolwich Online), January 05, 2016

    Nigel, my observation is that digital media has it's short-comings and these are likely the reason why despite companies like Facebook reportedly deriving the bulk of their advert revenues from mobile adverts, people still find it a turn-off.

    Viewing an advert from the internet for example, is better enjoyed than viewing it from a mobile phone for the major reason that the internet offers you a chance to expand your view to `full screen'.

    The thing is, for all its positive uses, miniaturization has its shortfalls. So some adverts are better enjoyed, better register on our minds when viewed on a bigger portal.

    Which is why I give it to Apple for realising that, at some point, miniaturization would have to lose its appeal. You see, in nature everything doesn't come small and Apple's new iPad Pro was a right step backwards that was most welcome and certainly took their competitors by surprise.

    Digital advertising needs to cut the right balance between screen sizes.

  3. Audrey, January 05, 2016
    Brands have been applying the same principles of traditional media to digital hence the frustration. We need to use art and code to deliver relevant messaging across the digital ecosystem.  Bulk ad placements without a proper placement strategy will not be effective on digital. Programmatic Buying allows advertisers to use insights to deliver relevant messaging within moments that matter. We have still not fully harnessed the opportunities that digital advertising presents to us. There was many considerations and requires careful planning and constant refinement. 
  4. Jorge Bueso, January 04, 2016
    Empowerment. The digital age is focused on giving us more and more tools and knowledge to become wiser more discerning citizens of the Earth. If anything stands in the way, reactions are most likely to be negative. I particularly hate losing control of my digital workspace. I am biased given my job but I do enjoy content and reward those that are apropos and impactful, be it a “like” or “share”. An algorithm that knows me better than I know myself sounds like Skynet (Terminator) or the Architect from the Matrix Trilogy; a platform from a fictional land that guides me without me knowing it. Therefore, when they do get it right, I am helping the calibration of said platform. Maybe that is how advertisers should sell it, you are helping me help you. 
  5. Michael aidan, January 04, 2016

    I particularly like your comment about "not having control in a place where you expect to have some". On TV, viewers have given up control or are using the remote control to regain it (usually at the detriment of ads).

    I would add another point of difference between media which also relates to delivery : the quantity of ads you get on TV is a function of the time you spend watching whereas online, it is a function of the number of actions you carry out. This may increase the perception of harassment.

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