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15 November 2012

Most Online Ads Unnoticed by Teens

Keywords: Websites, advertising, eye-tracking, internet, teens, Western Europe, computer, consumer behavior, decision making, experiment, interview, marketing, marketing strategy, resistance,

Online advertisements are often debated as to how they should be regulated to protect children and teens in their role as consumers. But how often are young consumers actually exposed to online ads and how many of these ads are actually heeded? A study in Visual Communication reveals that most of the online ads stay unnoticed.

Take aways

  • Teens only pay visual attention to 10% of the online ads they are exposed to, meaning that most ads stay unnoticed. 
  • For marketers or online ad developers, it’s crucial to produce ads that will be noticed by teens. Bigger ads at uncommon positions prove to be successful, just as ads for food and drinks. 
  • However, most teens are unaware of the ads they visually pay attention to and think their actual exposure is somewhat lower. This implies that there is a difference between paying visual attention to ads and actually remembering ads.

Study information

  • The question?

    How many and what kind of online ads are teens exposed to and how many of these ads do they actually pay attention to?

  • Who?

    39 teenagers from two different urban secondary schools (19 boys and 20 girls; 77% used the internet on a daily basis) 

  • Where?

    Southern Sweden

  • How?

    Teenagers were asked to surf on their favorite websites for 15 minutes without specific tasks. Their eye movement was recorded (i.e., eye-tracking) in order to measure their visual attention to online advertising. This visual attention indicated their actual exposure. Afterwards, all teenagers were asked to identify and point out the websites and advertisements they paid attention to in order to explore their awareness of the exposure (i.e., perceived exposure). 

Facts and findings

  • During their 15 minutes of online surfing teenagers were potentially exposed to an average of 132 different advertisements, like banners and ad links. 
  • Of these 132 online ads, only 14 were really paid visual attention to by teens. This means that the actual exposure is just about 10% of the potential exposure. 
  • Teenagers paid most attention to ads for food and drink products. They were also more fixated on bigger ads and on ads at uncommon positions, like ads in the left or middle column of the internet page. 
  • However, not all teens were aware of the ads they actually looked at (i.e., their actual exposure revealed by eye-tracking). This indicates that remembering actual ad exposure seems to be difficult. 
  • Most teens were annoyed by the ads. According to the researchers, this could be an explanation why teens tend to avoid about 90% of the ads. Teens described strategies to avoid ads, like looking away or blocking the screen with their hands.