The Lane Packing Company ad is a pop up, which does not obscure the entire page but clearly dominates it. It's noticeable and it's interactive: You can solve the maze by running your mouse pointer through it. It's very visual and it gives you just about all the information you need.
Contrast that with the Five Star car dealership to the right. It basically tells you this company exists, and has 2,000 cars. It's a less expensive ad, but it unnecessarily ignores some very simple ways to breed interactivity.
It does not include a time element or other specifics, such as location. It does not inspire curiosity. The reader has no real reason to trust it, unless they already know about Five Star Automotive Group.
Most importantly, the ad also breaks a fundamental rule of advertising: Lead with your best deal. Don't tell me you've got 2,000 cars, tell me how much I can get a Honda for today. Tomorrow, wow me with a deal on an SUV, and a pickup truck the day after that, etc.
The simple black and yellow ad on the top right of the page follows this rule:
It's not much, but it leads with the best deal. Unfortunately the ad does not link directly to that deal, going instead to a page with so many options that readers are likely to be confused.
Let's shift to another advertising idea. Philip Meyer once wrote that "trust, in a busy marketplace, lends itself to monopoly." This philosophy can be extended from news reporting to advertising, though I'd add a second element in both cases:
Trust, and ease of use, lend themselves to monopoly.Let's look at the mock-up below, which was put together by Erin Ivanov based on my hand drawing.
This could cover an advertiser's actual ad, and the level of specific advertiser information revealed before the click can vary, even down to zero. Ideally this ad "cover" accomplishes several things:
- It shares the news operation's credibility with the advertiser, not merely through adjacency but with a clear statement.
- It includes a time element, which helps breed interactivity. (If you don't believe that, I'd like to introduce you to my fiance's love of Groupon.)
- It leaves out key information, encouraging curiosity. Sometimes leaving things out to inspire that "click" is the best way to go, which is a partial exception to the general rule of lead with your best deal.
These are a few examples of simple ways to increase interactivity, but the key is this: It is a given that tailoring ads to users based on IP addresses and other information is important. But so is broadening that audience by breeding new interactivity from the reading public, and there are simple, cheap and often ignored ways to do this.
To build on that, let me return to The Macon Telegraph example above.
I accessed that page from Garner, N.C. There's really no need for me to see a Macon area car ad, and even the Lane Packing ad I complimented does little good for me or Lane Packing.
Many entities use the Internet's ability to customize online advertising to the reader, but many newspapers have not capitalized on this appropriately. Surely national ads, sold at the chain level, can be substituted for local ones based on IP address.
Further, why not change out ads based on story traffic? As a story goes national, gets linked, etc., and its hit count goes up, shouldn't cheaper (and perhaps local) ads be changed out for more expensive (and perhaps national) ones?