Why consumers don't click banner ads

According to Business Insider, you’re more likely to win the lottery or survive a plane crash than to click a banner ad. Specifically, they say, you’re 2.13 times more likely to draw a full house in poker than to click on a banner ad. 31.25 times more likely to win cash in MegaMillions. 40.17 times more likely to give birth to twins. 87.8 times more likely to have your application to Harvard accepted. 111.4 times more likely to watch “American Idol.” 112.5 times more likely to sign up for and complete Navy SEAL training. 279.64 times more likely to successfully climb Mt. Everest. And 475.28 times more likely to survive a plane crash.

So who does click banner ads?

According to recent AOL Global Advertising Strategy research, consumers who do click on banner ads comprise not only a very tiny minority of Internet users, but also a very atypical one. About 1% of Web users click banner ads once a month. Only 0.2% click more often (i.e., twice a month or more). Two-thirds of these “heavy clickers” (insofar as once a month is heavy use) are female. They’re older. Most are Midwesterners, with some concentrations in Mid-Atlantic States (such as Virginia) and New England. They’re less educated than average and more likely to live outside major metro areas (even smaller major metro areas such as Richmond). They visit primarily sweepstakes sites and love to open junk mail and talk to telemarketers.

As Danah Boyd of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society notes, “…heavy ad clickers…are more likely to trend lower in both economic and social capital.”

But that’s not bad

Now, this would be devastating news to advertisers if their online banners were targeted to downmarket audiences and if their only purpose were to trigger responses. Fortunately, neither is the case (just as it’s not the case that most newspaper and magazine ads or broadcast commercials are direct-response).

For one thing, smart advertisers target smarter, more educated and affluent consumers because, as Willie Sutton once said to explain why he robbed banks, that’s where the money is.

For another, any advertiser who thinks that the sole purpose of online banners is to get clicks is sadly misinformed. It isn’t, any more than the purpose of all print, television, radio and outdoor advertising were to trigger direct responses. While online shopping is growing like mad, that’s often the last, not the first, step in the buying process. Ads are extremely powerful at creating awareness and brand identity, differentiating brands and products, communicating product information, building preference, and triggering eventual purchase.

So there’s nothing wrong, and a lot right, about online advertising – so long as you approach it with realistic metrics, goals and expectations.