Steve Krug has famously compared Web pages to billboards, meaning that Web visitors are task oriented, and therefore on-the-move.Â They click through websites, sizing up any individual page’s content in about as much time as a driver takes to glance up at a billboard, roughly 7 seconds or so.
The difference of course, is that material in the active window is being actively and consciously engaged and evaluated by the Web visitor, who can then slow down and read material that has proven itself relevant, which is obviously not the case for billboards.Â This is where the analogy breaks down, and why mostÂ copywriters will slap anyone clueless enough to vomit up the old “People don’t read online” mantra.
But as useful as the analogy is for web pages, it’s far more so for online ads:
So when my recent post on Apple’s Banner Ad Innovation provoked some Ogilvy-inspired comments that compared banner ads to magazine ads, I thought It would be worthwhile to revisit that advertising giant’s advice on billboards (or what he refers to generally as posters).Â So here it is:
Now, strong colors might be a toss-up, because while they can draw the eye, they also scream “I’m an ad, ignore me.”Â And you can take or leave the other bottom four bullets, but the top two are pure gold for banner ads and are exactly what Apple was doing in it’s New York Times banner/skyscraper ad.
This surprise and delight factor causes a peripheral eye sweep to become a studied look, gaining you the web visitor’s/driver’s active attention and consideration.Â And it does it while leaving those people with a positive emotional response to your brand (as apposed to gaining attention through an annoying, dancing stick figure).Â Here’s an example of visual scandal that Ogilvy provided in Ogilvy on Advertising:
And here are some of my personal favorite examples:
Of course, the razor blade, kill bill, and Nike ads are probably better than the Makers Mark and Frozen Mars Bar ad because in those billboards the selling promise is implicit in the visual scandal, thereby following Ogilvy’s second point as well as the first.
Notice how often this idea of visual scandal requires the use of 3-D or “outside the lines” effects.Â So how did Apple do this with a banner ad?Â They had multiple space ads interacting with each other, extending the ad outside the lines/boundaries of what we are used to.Â Take a look:
Another technique for creating visual scandal is to make creative and unusual use of a boundary, line, or element that is already a part of the environment, creating a visual pun, as these examples do:
This techniques works for a lot more than posters, too:
Humans use stories to explain deviations from the ordinary.Â As Jerome Bruner writes in, Acts of Meaning:
“Stories seem to be designed to give the exceptional behavior meaning in a manner that implicates both an intentional state in the protagonist (a belief or desire) and some canonical element in the culture . . . The function of the story is to find an intentional state that mitigates or at least makes comprehensible a deviation from a canonical cultural pattern.”
So viewers create stories by speculating on the motives of the actors depicted (within a scene or picture); they use their imaginations to fill in the back-story.Â Needless to say, you can’t have a story element to your picture/billboard/banner ad unless it contains people, or more precisely, characters.
Just look at the ad Ogilvy used as an example of “story element”:
And here’s what Ogilvy wrote about Story Appeal (and this ad):
“The kind of photographs which work hardest are those which arouse the reader’s curiousity.Â He glances at the photograph and says to himself, ‘What goes on heres?’Â Then he reads your copy to find out.Â Harold Rudolph called this magic element ‘Story Appeal,’ and demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people look at your advertisements.”
“The eyepatch [in the Hathaway ad] injects the magic element of ‘story appeal.‘”
Do you see how the odd characteristic of the Baron Wrangell character made readers curious.Â They speculated about his background, purpose in the ad, etc.Â And so they read the ad.Â In online terms, they’d click through to get the full story on your home page.
For most people this same story appeal now occurs whenever we see the Mac and PC characters – especially when we see them outside the confines of a TV ad.Â Viewers know there’s a story to the ad somewhere, and so look closer to find out what it is.
So all you Internet Marketers yearning for a creative renaissance in online advertising, follow Apple’s lead and employ these techniques to their maximum.Â Just try to remember that after you’ve surprised and delighted your audience, it will be relevance and scent that will determine whether your ad actually makes the client any money.
[Editor's note: the author of this post is now blogging at jeffsextonwrites.com]