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David R. Thompson ( is director of online services/content development at the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune.

Creative advertisers have invented an effective method for reaching online readers who avoid banner ads: the trick banner. In the short term, trick banners increase click-through rates. But in the long term, trick banners train readers to avoid interaction with online advertising.


I know. I've been victimized by this trickery.

I found a banner ad that said something like: "Best rates for air travel." A pulldown menu would provide a list of destinations. There was no list. The very moment I clicked on that familiar little triangle that means "look down here for more options," I was hurled through cyberspace, landing on the home page of the advertised company.

I didn't choose to go there. Feeling deceived, I couldn't hit my browsers "Stop" and "Back" buttons fast enough. Then, fearing further manipulation, I left the site on which the ad had been placed and vowed never to return.

Soon thereafter, I encountered a fake keyword search in a banner ad. Sensing a trend, I teamed up with Birgit Wassmuth, associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Together, we conducted research that identified eight types of trick banner ads that use graphic elements to prey on our knowledge and expectations of interface design.

Dysfunctional representations of interactive features include used: pulldown menu, keyword search, scroll bar (vertical and horizontal), play button (like those used to activate sound files), and error message. All fake. Also used are a fake forced-choice function (if the default is "yes" and you click on "no," then you're already on your way to the linked site) and redundant buttons (such as a radio button that gives the compulsive clicker a target). Redundant buttons are not necessary; the whole ad is a hot link.

Trick banners are used for a wide range of products and services -- from Internet dial-up companies to escort services. Though most banner ads are innocent, placement of trick banners is pervasive. Whether produced by professional advertising agencies, in-house ad departments, or freelancers, trick banners are everywhere, including online newspapers. In my opinion, their use by online newspapers could have a negative impact on both advertising and editorial departments.

For advertising:

* Efforts to build relationships are meaningless. Once manipulated, customers are forever wary.

* Attempts to create a positive attitude toward the ad, product and brand are minimized. And, by association, a negative feeling toward the site that placed the trick banner may be activated.

* Although click-through for the trick banner is registered, people may hurry away from the site that holds the ad. Other ads are never seen.

* Encountering trick banners leads to avoidance of ads that employ functional interactive features. A banner ad itself can be a point of sale, without jumping to a linked file. Some ads for online booksellers and yellow pages sites come to mind. By allowing trick banner placement, the effectiveness of emerging forms of digital advertising may be harmed.

For editorial:

* Credibility may be compromised. When a newspaper engages in questionable advertising practices, the integrity of its news product is questioned.

* Trick banners may teach avoidance of interactive content like online polls or interactive information graphics, such as a property tax calculator.

* Banner-sized teasers to inside content and to special feature sections may be ignored.

There is now a need for standardized guidelines regarding the use of potentially deceptive online advertising, including trick banners. I encourage you to examine your online advertising policy. It probably instructs ad clients to adhere to Internet Advertising Bureau ( standard banner sizes; to keep GIF file size to about 7K; to avoid pornography, foul or rascist language, and other offensive or objectionable materials. But there's probably nothing about trick banners.

The content of trick banners does not have to be offensive, objectionable or deceptive. It's what happens at the moment of interaction that irritates people. In a blind rush to attain optimum click-through, advertisers have created a form of advertising that has the power to drive readers away.

Do they really need a trick to make us click?
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:online advertising
Author:Thompson, David R.
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 13, 1999
Next Article:50 YEARS AGO ...

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