The TrustE numbers cited by eMarketer said that only 12.6 percent of respondents said that more than a quarter of the targeted ads they were delivered were relevant. Ouch.
I was on facebook today (a rarity for me) and I happened to notice the ad to the right.
Yes, it's fairly creepy, but that wasn't what caught my eye. Notice the links below the ad? That "Advertise' link is fairly commonly found on sites, if you want to advertise through Facebook, click that and off you go. (By the way, Facebook makes it insanely simple to do that.)
But, the other links are, in my experience, rather unique. The "More Ads" link gets you to the full listing of ads that Facebook might provide you. Users can pick their own advertising. Nifty.
But wait, there's more!
Facebook also has those two nifty thumbs up/thumbs down buttons. Unfortunately I couldn't get them to work. I clicked on them multiple times on multiple browsers and nothing happened. But… I really like the idea.
Imagine a site (newspapers, listen up!) that targets advertising to users, in part, based directly on what they decide they want. The links should be simple and unobtrusive like Facebook's example.
Why would anybody bother to spend the time telling a site which ads they like (or more likely, which ads they don't like)?
Simple. The site can give them the reward of removing the ads they don't like -- completely.
If a user clicks on the 'thumbs down' button, the site shouldn't simply replace that ad with another. Give the user the incentive – remove the ad; remove the hole on the page that was made for it. Get rid of it completely, make it a sort of "sorry to bother you with that trash" message to the user.
As a sidenote of sorts:
Facebook's ads are great in part because they all conform to a similar design standard that in turn conforms with the rest of the site. Facebook insures ads are un-obtrusive.
One common complaint about online ads that they are not nearly as "informative" as print ads are.
a recent survey of American consumers which found that more than three-quarters of respondents said online ads were more annoying than those in print.
In general people don't like flashy moving ads and prefer smaller, Google-like, text ads.
"Ironically, the one type of ads that really work on the Web are the small, text-only ads on search engines.
Make online ads more like print
Therefore, online ads should be made to looks more like print ads. In my own, non-scientific observations of print newspaper ads, there's an obvious pattern that appears in print that does not appear online.
Print ads, generally, list prices, provide coupons, or tell the consumer when a sale is going to be. In contrast, online ads try to get you to make 'free money.' No wonder people prefer print.
The ads newspapers carry are necessarily focused on a local market. Fortunately, this is easy to replicate online.
I recall watching a video (I can't remember where, otherwise I'd link to it), where an expert explained the newspaper advertising is struggling because of the way advertisers determine the total percentage of the site's visitors that might be interested in their ads.
The gentleman presented the following logic: if the San Francisco Chronicle has an online readership of 1 million, but only half live in the SF Bay Area, then a car dealership that wants to advertise on the paper's site assumes that their ads are only applicable to half of the paper's audience and therefore worth half as much.
This is ludicrous!
If the car dealership has places a print ad, it misses out on the the half million people who visit the site, but have no chance of seeing the print edition. The dealership has effectively doubled its audience.
Not only can the Newspaper offer a greater audience, but technology allows it to localize ads - automatically. If that dealership doesn't want to pay for ads that don't effect users outside the Bay Area, then the newspaper doesn't have to show that ad to the irrelevant users. Instead, they can find car dealerships that are applicable to their non-local users.
A theoretical step
I have no idea how much of the above is already done (or not done), but I here is a proposition for something that surely is not occuring.
A way to solve this problem:
Newspapers need to team up. Not in the media conglomeration sense, but in the Ohio sense. If national newspapers cooperated on advertising, a user from San Francisco visiting the NY Times site could still see advertising from that car dealership near San Francisco.
The NY Times can pocket the revenue and pay a small commission to The Chronicle for arranging the whole deal. The user gets relevant ads that are informative.
The key here is to provide relevant, local, ads that users find helpful, not gaudy.