Some Ads Get Attention for All the Wrong Reasons

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A recent banner ad from software firm Macromedia illustrates just how desperate some banner ad creators are in the land of sub-0.5-percent click rates.


"Macromedia Flash4: The solution for producing high-impact Web sites," reads the headline. "Click for more information and a free trial download," goes the subhead.


So far, so good. Well-known company, offer and call-to-action are all included. The banner even uses every direct marketer's favorite selling word, "free."


A quick pass with the cursor without clicking, however, tells us we've got a problem marketer on our hands.


The banner begins to ... well ... flash. "I will not be ignored," it says. Get it? Macromedia Flash?


But this isn't just flashing. This is strobe-light, sear-your-retinas, each-letter-on-its-own-timer flashing.


Thanks, Macromedia. If there was any question that your products are contributing to an Internet experience getting more irritating by the day as a result of marketers who think people want their computers gyrating, dancing and singing while they try to get some work done, you just answered it.


Is this what Macromedia wants to be known for? Doubtful.


But back to the banner:


Clicking on it resulted in being taken to the Flash section of Macromedia's Web site. No special offer, it turns out. No special Web page. Just the same 30-day free trial offer they give everyone.


As usual on the back end of a banner, we're left to fend for ourselves.


Why don't the people who design banner campaigns like these just hire a bunch of people to walk the streets of major U.S. cities and slap people who seem to meet their demographic requirements? Better yet, why not use those air horns lunatics sneak into hockey games. Just walk up and blast 'em right in the face. That's the selling spirit.


The pitch could go something like this:


"Hello sir. You look like you're a married professional between 25 and 40 with a household income of $50,000 and up." Braaaaaaaap! "Now that I've got your attention, just walk into that store over there and look around. There will be no clerk there to help you. We just figure we designed the store so well -- pleasing colors, consistent look-and-feel and so forth -- that you're bound to buy something. Go on, now. Have a nice day."


Then, of course, when our horn blasters get 25 out of 100 people to go into the store -- never mind if the newly deaf prospects buy anything -- the horn blasters' public relations firm could put out a press release saying they got a 25-percent response rate.


Macromedia's I-will-not-be-ignored banner illustrates two big problems with online marketing:


* Too many marketers still put way too much emphasis on click-through rates. What other explanation can there be for such efforts? By some estimates, 80 percent of media buyers still measure campaigns mainly by their click-through rates.


* Too many online art directors are tempted to use technology for its own sake.


The click-through problem is something marketers should be way beyond by now. It can't be said enough: Measuring click-throughs is like a direct mailer measuring how many envelopes get opened -- great information to have but certainly not a sole measure of a campaign's success.


The technology problem is a stickler, however. Marketers want their campaigns to jump out at people. And it's certainly understandable. Just look at how rich media's 3D graphics, sound and interaction capabilities drive up response rates, at least for now. So art directors do what they're asked -- get prospects' attention.


And in Macromedia's case, why not use homegrown Flash to get the point across? Because it pointlessly draws attention from nonqualified prospects and annoys those who are qualified, that's why. And a large percentage of the time, we're annoying the prospects at work -- a sure-fire way to get shut out for good.


Too many marketers are answering the online static problem with more noise. Instead of yelling louder, why don't we try making an offer worth hearing?
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