The Most Hated Online Advertising Techniques

We conducted a survey with 452 adult respondents from the United States who were not employed in an IT- or marketing-related industry. In this survey, participants were shown 23 wireframes corresponding to different types of advertisements and rated how much they disliked them on a scale of 1 to 7.

Wireframes were presented for both desktop and mobile variants of the same ad, when possible. If there were no common or practical implementations of an advertisement type on mobile, only the desktop variant was shown. We used wireframes instead of screenshots as our stimuli to avoid influencing users with the ad’s visual design, message, or brand. The wireframes focused people’s attention on the ad format.

The advertisements within the wireframes were bright purple for easy identification and contained placeholder text reading, “This is an advertisement.” The wireframes also had accompanying explanatory text to provide more context. The table below shows the types of ads used in the study and the corresponding explanatory text presented to participants.

Ad Preference Ratings

In the following analysis, we report ad dislike, which is a number from 1 to 7 (1= strong like, 7 = strong dislike) that directly reflects participants’ ratings. The overall average score for all ads was 5.23. This number shows that our respondents aren’t rabid haters of advertising per se. The overall feeling is slight annoyance; but that’s the average. As we’ll see, certain advertising formats irk users much more and do cross into “hatred” territory.

An ANOVA on ad type and device showed that people hate mobile ads more than they hate desktop ads (desktop average of 5.09 vs. mobile average of 5.45; this difference was statistically significant at p <0.0001). The effect of ad type (discussed later) was also statistically significant (p <0.0001).

To understand how ads compared with each other, we ran multiple comparison tests (using Tukey contrasts). We found that, for most advertisement types, the mobile and the desktop counterparts did not differ significantly, with the exception of related links and the prevideo advertisement (p< 0.0001). For the desktop prevideo ad, users could skip the ad, whereas that wasn’t possible with the mobile variant because most native mobile video players do not allow users to skip ads or click on video annotations. Thus, this finding makes it difficult to determine whether it was the mobile condition or the lack of ability to skip the ad which made the ad more annoying. On the other hand, related-links ads were significantly (p<0.05) more disliked on mobile than on desktop, and that difference can reliably be attributed to the device on which they were presented.

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