Brands Warned not to Bombard Consumers into Ad Blindness

As global e-commerce sales steadily rise, the temptation to serve online shoppers more ads is tempting but it can quickly lead to ‘ad blindness’ or even active dislike for an over-enthusiastic brand.

Current estimates suggest that retail web sales will reach $1 trillion by 2013, with UK consumers spending £5.8 billion online in July this year alone. Not only are consumers happy to engage with new online retail channels such as mobile, they actively expect to be given a unified shopping experience across multiple platforms. With such a rapidly growing market, the need for online retail brands to be visible across these channels is greater than ever before.

Global advertising impressions have skyrocketed from 172 billion in 1996 to over 5 trillion in 2012, as consumers are served ads through email, SMS and social media, via desktops, smartphones and other mobile devices. While the number of ads had risen sharply, engagement has plummeted. Average click-through rates stood at around 7% in 1996, shrinking to less than 0.1% today.

When an ad fails to engage the consumer, at best it is due to ad blindness (where the consumer automatically ignores the advert), at worst it is because the consumer feels actively irritated by being bombarded with adverts. This can lead the consumer to respond negatively to the brand who they feel are throwing an inordinate amount of ads at them, some or all of which they may find irrelevant.

Nick Millward, Product & Strategy Director at Upstream said that after conducting a research poll in collaboration with YouGov, they uncovered some troubling data on the consequences of digital bombardment:

“Firstly, 66 percent of respondents stated they felt subjected to excessive digital advertising and promotions and worryingly, one in four (27 percent) British and one in five (20 percent) American consumers would stop using a brand’s product or services immediately if they felt they were receiving too many marketing messages. A further one in ten (10 percent) stated they would complain about that brand to friends on social media if they were digitally bombarded and the majority of consumers (66 percent) claimed they would unsubscribe from the brand in question.”

This gives online retail brands a tricky proposition to deal with: be highly visible, but not to the point where you annoy the consumer. Such a balancing act requires a cohesive digital marketing strategy in order to create campaigns which serve users with ads that are as relevant and engaging as possible.

There is a limit to the number of ads that any given retailer can serve if they want to avoid pushing the consumer to the point where they feel saturated. Consequently, this means that brands need to think much more carefully about exactly where they place their ads, reducing their volume and increasing their relevance instead.

A handful of good quality, highly targeted ads has a better chance of success than a scattershot approach where a cloud of adverts are spread far and wide.