make art not ads – getting your readers’ attention

about two weeks ago, jordan mccollum reported on an interested study conducted by nielsen that found that online ad-blindness is worsening. if you look at the following heatmap from studies tracking the areas where most users focused on a webpage, you see that ads get little-to-no attention.

the reason for this is not that users hate all advertisement, it’s that users hate how you’re advertising your product. for example, ads with flashing colors, or animals jumping around, and those that are generally distracting or annoying will be noticed by users but will deter 90 percent of them from clicking on the ad or buying a product advertised therein.

no wonder the firefox plugin that wipes ads clean from websites – adblock plus – has garnered so much attention. most people are happy to block out these advertisements because not only do they range from intrusive to obnoxious, but they also take longer than the rest of the content on a page to load, causing you to wait unnecessarily. as noam cohen wrote in the nytimes, adblock plus may soon become an ‘extreme menace to the online-advertising business model’. in fact, the backlash has already begin, with some people blocking access to their content for people using the firefox browser (because it implicitly endorses adblock plus) and for communities whose members use firefox.

what comes as a surprise is that while other business dependent on the viability of the online advertising model are worried, google remains unshaken. in fact, rather than reacting against it, google (which probably has the most to lose) continues to support the development of, and work with the firefox team. perhaps it’s because google remains committed to providing ads that are truly useful and believes that if an ad is useful enough, the users will take it upon themselves to not unblock it.

while the adblock plugin has found millions of friends (and is adding hundreds of thousands as we speak), steve lambert is taking a different approach. unsatisfied with simply blocking the ads, lambert has decided to replace them with artwork from contemporary artists.

replacing annoying and obtrusive ads with some eye candy, turning them into their exact opposite, is a consequent continuation of what adblock started — making the web endurable and enjoyable.

but who says we cannot achieve a compromise between adblock’s goal of making the web ‘endurable and enjoyable’ and lambert’s goal to do so by replacing ads with art, without sending the entire online advertising industry into complete disarray? in fact, the gawker network of blogs has managed to do exactly that. they offer their unsold ad-space to artists (free of cost) to display their artwork.

their decision to do so, coupled with my desire to see this artwork (while i’m browsing their content) not only makes me keep my adblock plugin disabled while i browse some of their less popular blogs, but also gets me to click on the artwork to read more about it. if we were to take this model a few steps further, to the point where we’re not just advertising products, rather are ‘artvertising’ them, perhaps we can get more people to stop blocking the ads and start appreciating them.

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13 thoughts on “make art not ads – getting your readers’ attention

  1. blaine garrett

    There is something to be said about columns and peripheral content. I have done some casual usability testing with the Adamantine Arts site and when there are 3 columns and one contains ads (even unobtrusive google ads), the 3rd column gets over looked a lot. It is odd.

    As an aside, for my Human Interfaces Class, we did go into the usability lab and do the heat maps. I didn’t get to be the guinea pig because the head rig that calibrates itself to your eyes made me a little queasy. However, it was pretty awesome to see the live video feed with the “burning” of how long and where the user in the other room was looking. neat stuff.

  2. Avinash

    Completely agree with you on the ‘art’ aspect of the online advertising industry. I’ve always enjoyed artistic ads.

    I think, website visitors feel annoyed because of ugly ads. Another strong reason to block advertisement blocks is ad-overuse. Even if the ad design is nice, publishers include banners inside the content area. That’s just gonna force people to use extensions like adblock plus.

    I use adblock plus in a different way. If I visit a site and find disturbing ads (e.g. ad blocks included in a blog post), I block that particular advertisement banner and leave others alone. I also leave the text-link-ad advertisement blocks untouched because they don’t annoy me.

    Recently, Google started allowing AdSense publishers to place smooth banners on their sites and in my opinion, it was a great move by Google. Still, I see people selecting weird color combinations for their AdSense ad blocks.

    About the entire online advertisement industry, I can say only one thing that ad agencies need to be creative. They also need to contact publishers and guide that ad placement does matter, no matter how creative an ad is.

  3. Godspeed

    I for one completely back Ad-Block. Mass marketing and the bombardment of adverts has become, as terrible thing. We cannot walk down the street in any city, without seeing hundreds of ads, at any given time. They want to fill any ******* space they can with ads. And then they whine, when we find a way around it.

    Any internet user that has more than two years of experience know this; Ads are ********. Especially with mal/spyware now circulating. And to make the matter worse, the ads aren’t even clever. I don’t want to punch the Pope to win an iPod– No thank you. (Although, the idea of punching a religious idol makes me kinda giggle)

    Or the ad’s that follow your screen. You know what I mean? The ones that scroll with you? You can’t get away from them! So, the giant companies that have more money than I’ll ever see? Complain because now I refuse to look at their senseless, obnoxious ads, that at times, they force me to view? **** them. And their money. We’re pioneering a free-sourced ******* future. Mass consumerism is destroying the world…

  4. HMTKSteve

    I am moving away from the traditional Ad Networks on many of my sites and I moving to selling button links instead.

    If the image is hosted on my server you can’t exactly ad-block it without blocking all of my images! By choosing advertisers that I feel are in line with me (instead of hoping some ad network properly matches me up) I give my users ads that are relevant and the advertisers pay me money. Everyone wins!

    I use adblock when visiting my own sites (except for checking alignment issues) and on all of the computers in my house. It’s not just because ads are annoying but because I do not want someone in my home visiting one of my sites and “Accidently” clicking on one of my ads and getting me banned from that ad network (with them keeping ALL of my legit revenue), yeah, I’m talking about Google!!!

  5. Hawaii SEO

    In many cases, the ads ARE the featured content. Trade and niche magazines work on this principal. Let’s say you pick up a magazine about digital cameras, or whatever. One of the primary reasons why you are looking at the magazine is because you want to see the ads. You want to see ads from the camera and accessory manufactures. You want to see ads for cool photo equipment and gadgets. Sometimes the full page ads are more informative than the articles.

    People assume that ads are a bad thing but it’s not necessarily the case. Publishers who allow flashing, irrelevant banners are the problem.

  6. anna

    It’s funny, I just today installed that on my work PC. Couldn’t stand the annoying ads any more.
    Oh, and the flash blocker too. Way too many flash ads out there.

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  8. Hawaii SEO

    @HMTKSteve – That’s not what I said. I simply implied that you might miss something relevant and potentially valuable of you block the ads.

    However… I do know of several very popular websites that would almost be a blank screen if all the ads and paid content was missing. I doubt that the plugin will be able to filter out all the affiliate links, paid reviews and other forms of advertising though.

  9. Craig B

    I’m currently using the adblock plus plugin and it works EXTREMELY well. I actually forgot I was using it. I tested it out on a site called and it cut the page in half. One of those site that would be nice if it didn’t have a ton of ads on it you know. The ads are their main revenue source but they need to figure out a way so that the ads are not so intrusive. Try it out you will like it and like I said it works smoothly.

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  11. Zeno, Internetographer

    I don’t care how intrusive the ads are, I’m going to block them. I don’t click on ads when they’re up for the simple reason that while surfing the net, I’m not out to buy anything. When I want to buy something, I’ll go to sites for that purpose.

    Also, compromise in this area is unlikely. Even if AdBlock Plus were to loosen up its features to allow some ads, some other program or plugin would come along and wipe out ads again.

    Also also, AdBlock Plus doesn’t filter out “ads” in general, because there exists no definition for an “ad” as such. Rather, it blocks lists of specific content from specific places. For this reason, it’s still possible to allow certain ads through, if you really want to see them, though it might take a bit of work.


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