These Are the Most Hated Advertising Techniques

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Getting a higher ROI from digital advertising is the primary goal of almost every media agency. Whether you’re running pre-roll video ads or a retargeting campaign, you want to ensure that your ad spend is generating a viable return on investment.

With that said, we can all benefit from research to understand which advertising techniques are harmful and obtrusive to the modern user experience.

Let’s face it—ads that are harmful aren’t effective.

Which ads aren’t effective?

The Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) set out to discover exactly which types of ads were annoying users most, or at the very least, being completely ignored.

They conducted a survey to discover the most hated advertising techniques. NNG picked 452 adults from the US and asked them to rate various ad formats on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 depicting a strong like and 7 portraying a strong dislike. Wireframes of 23 display ads were shown on mobile and desktop, then rated.

NNG used wireframes instead of real ads to avoid influencing people with the ad’s design, brand, or visual message.

hated advertising (1)

The pop-up ad is not beloved, to say the least.

According to the results, the modal or pop up ad is the most hated advertisement tactic on desktop.

Though you may give into the temptation of pop ups being great for expanding your clients’ email lists, the finding raises an important concern about intolerance towards this ad.

hated advertising (2)

Autoplay is disruptive on desktop.

The other most disliked techniques among desktop users include autoplay video ads, intracontent ads that push a webpage’s content down as they appear, and deceptive links that appear like useful anchors but are ads.

As for the ads least disliked on desktop, the ratings for related links and right rail/sidebar ads are significantly lower than all other desktop ads. Running these ads should be safe and not damage your clients’ reputation.

When it comes to mobile, modal again takes the crown for the most hated advertising technique. In fact, modals do worse on mobile (5.94 rating) than desktop (5.82 rating). These overlays are truly annoying, as some occupy the entire screen and even block website navigation.

hated advertising (3)

Mobile users want to see their video content immediately, not after your ad.

The other most disliked ads on mobile are basically the same as desktop, and include intracontent ads, prevideo ads that appear before a video, and deceptive links – these and modal had a significantly higher rating than all other mobile ads.

Sponsored social media and related links are the clear mobile-ad winners: they’re considered to be less intrusive than all other mobile advertising tactics. Hence, campaigns using these two formats are more likely to drive positive returns on ad spend.

In terms of overall sentiment towards advertising, NNG found that people dislike mobile ads more than they dislike desktop ads.

hated advertising (4)

People like ads a little more on a desktop.

Desktop ads have a 5.09 average rating while the average for mobile ads is 5.45, implying that ROI could be higher for desktop campaigns.

Our verdict:

There’s need for integrated, multi-faceted ad campaigns. There will always be some people who show resistance to a certain advertising techniques and formats, so there’s a benefit in using multiple tactics.

That said, if over a decade people still dislike the same formats that are disrupting their experiences (pop-ups also topped the hate rankings in 2004), it’s time you start replacing them with less-obtrusive ad units.

For the best results, consider equipping your campaigns with native formats that don’t overtly disrupt people’s browsing experience in an annoying or intrusive way.

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