The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

Don’t bury traditional banner ads just yet. Here’s what eye-tracking shows

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Banners perform quite well when the user does not have a clear-cut goal for using the website
  • Application:
    It’s most effective to target websites and times of day when people have a relatively more open mode of attention
  • Is banner advertising dead and buried? It certainly doesn’t look like it: banners are still highly prevalent across the web. Nonetheless, today’s click-through rates of these traditional banner ads are identical to zero, if you were to round at a single decimal (yes, CTR rates hover around 0,05%).

    Banner blindness, the term referring to our aptitude to ignore seemingly anything that resembles a banner, was coined in 1998. Since then, it appears people are only getting better at ignoring these traditional online ads.

    However, this apparent lack of effectiveness does not repel advertisers in spending their dollars on online display campaigns. Are there metrics – other than click-through rates – that justify this practice? A team of neuromarketing researchers used eye tracking and memory research to dissect banner effectiveness from every possible angle.

    When do banners attract most attention?

    The more we focus on a specific search task, our brain ignores any information that does not appear relevant for this task. Sometimes to the detriment of the actual object we’re looking for; such as our keys when they are right in front of our eyes. This is called selective attention and it is the main reason why banner blindness exists.

    In the present study, the researchers examined banner performance under different attentional modes. They instructed the users to be either goal directed (actively reading the news article) or exploratory (finding out were to click next on the web page). This attentional difference turns out to have a striking effect on how the content, and more specifically the banners, were processed. While the banners captured little attention when the user was actively digesting the news article, they performed significantly better when the user adopted a more open attentional stance.

    This finding has major implications for smart targeting. Advertisers face an uphill battle when they target websites that are mostly used in a highly goal-directed fashion, as this increases the user’s banner blindess. Instead, they should focus their efforts on more exploratory driven platforms. The extent to which users behave in a goal-directed fashion (versus exploratory) can vary across:

    1. Type of platform (news vs social media)
    2. Type of content (factual news vs inspirational news)
    3. Time of day (quick early-morning catch-up vs late night browsing out of boredom)

    Banner effectiveness is about more than clicks

    Even though click-through rates are generally low, the study shows marketeers may still reap the rewards of banner advertising – even without a click. The researchers tested brand and banner recall one day and one week after the initial exposure. The data shows that a high percentage of our participants was able to recognize two out of the three banner ads one day and one week after exposure.

    The researchers also investigated the correlation between duration of visual attention and marketing outcomes of clicks and recall. For click-
    through there was a linear relationship: the longer visitors look at the ad, the more likely they will click. Interestingly, there existed no such relationship for recall. Even low levels of attention are sufficient for the banner to enter our memory, and extra attention did not matter. This means that banner ads may play a role in keeping brands top of mind.

    Banner position matters too

    Finally, the researchers tested a variety banner positions across the top, middle and bottom of a news article. While conventional marketing wisdom holds that any position above the folders performs better than any position below that, this is not what the eye tracking data showed. In fact, banners placed in the middle of the article outperformed both the top and bottom placements.

    The superiority of in-article banner placement is probably caused by – again – banner blindness. It’s easier to ignore a banner that’s displayed above an article than a banner that’s sandwiched in between two paragraphs.

  • Reference:

    Simonetti, A., & Bigne, E. (2024). Does banner advertising still capture attention? An eye-tracking study. Spanish Journal of Marketing-ESIC, 28(1), 3-20.

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