Fishing for Customers using On-line Ads - By: Matt Bacak

Description : You can love them, hate them or you can love to hate them, either way, online ads are still a lucrative source of revenue in the online world. A study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated that advertising revenue in the United States increased by $1.3 billion dollars to an astounding $7.3 billion in 2003.

Both the large corporations and mom-and-pop stores are successfully using online ads so it is tougher by the day to compete. Those who are truly "in the know" are practicing certain trends and are coming out on top.

Here is a look at a few of them:
1) Organic Shapes
If you examine the top selling ads from Weight Watchers, OfficeMax and ReliaQuote, you will see they feature some form of curves or other organic shapes. Shapes are used to contrast the hard-edged, square styles favored previously. Marketing groups show that this looks more comforting, approachable and appealing to their target audience.

When comparing, look for popular ads that have moved from the extensive-copy-and-image format to heavy usage of stock photography that shows their "customers." Your competitors are using any combination of upbeat images that highlights the intended customer reaction to their product.

NOTE: Take a look at SitePoint's own extensive list of imagery sites.

If price point is an issue, look at Stock.xchng. They offer a great selection of free stock photography. Much of their product rivals and even surpasses the royalty-free image sites. In addition, the Free Stock Photography thread in the SitePoint Forums is also worth a look.

2) Copy and Deals
Online ad copy is often focused on a tradition that marketers have followed for a while now.
The copy focuses on these principals:

1. Get it for free
2. Save some money
3. Make life easier

The more effective online ads use simple, direct copy to entice visitors to visit the vendor's website and then they hit the visitor with the complete sales pitch once they arrive.

3) Interaction
Interactive banner ads are very popular. These range from the Hit-the-Bull's Eye ads to more complex formats that feature simulated form fields. The primary drive of animated ads is to gain click-through.
With the widespread acceptance of Macromedia Flash, a new class of ads popped up. Hewlett-Packard continues the tradition, today, with audio-driven ads that explain and teach potential customers about HP's fotoimaging technology, and function as mini-presentations.

Companies, today, have thrown their hats into the ring with Flash overlay ads. These ads (usually of very large file size) overlay the text of Web pages and entice customers to view more than can typically fit into a banner ad. Even though many users find them annoying, these overlay ads are reported to achieve click-though rates up to a 50 times better than traditional banner ads.

4) Layouts and Sizes
The most common ad size is measured at 468x60 pixels. This ad size is now so popular that it is a preset in recent versions of Adobe Photoshop. Also popular are "skyscraper" banners at 120x600 pixels. Some ads do not fit a pre-defined size, such as all the Flash popover ads.

Many banner and skyscrapers ads follow a popular "thirds" formula. Two-thirds of the ad contains a picture and the main advertising points; the remaining third contains minimal copy and clickable buttons.

7) The use of Fonts
Take note of the shift from serif fonts to sans-serif fonts in online advertising.

Go back to the SitePoint Forums and look for WhatTheFont. You can upload a simple JPEG, GIF, TIFF or BMP image and identify which font is used in a particular ad. This is a great resource for reviving older ads for which you have lost the original files.
If you know your fonts by name, visit 1001 Free Fonts. They offer a vast selection of fonts.

If you want to fish for new customers, you need to know and understand your competition. Make note of the new trends and tips being used in online advertising and you will be well ahead of the game.

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