Corporate Eye

Consumers Weigh in on Online Marketing, Advertising and Content

hand_mouseIn a study released by AOL called “The Consumer and Content: Benchmark Study,” that combines both qualitative and quantitative research, it is revealed that consumers not only accept online advertising in exchange for free information and content but they also expect it.  As long as that advertising is relevant and not intrusive, the majority of the online audience can live with it.  In fact, if that advertising is highly-targeted, it’s actually welcomed by the online audience.

Here is how the data shakes out:

  • 69% – Ads targeted to my likes are very or somewhat acceptable
  • 61% – Ads with photos (like magazines) are very or somewhat acceptable
  • 58% – Ads from sponsors in search results are very or somewhat acceptable
  • 53% – Ads with sharing functionality such as on Facebook or via email are very or somewhat acceptable
  • 33% – Ads in videos are very or somewhat acceptable
  • 15% – Pop-up ads are very or somewhat acceptable
  • 14% – Ads that takeover the screen and experience are very or somewhat acceptable

In other words, less intrusive but useful ads are not only the most acceptable form of online advertising from consumers’ perspectives, but it’s also the most likely form of online advertising to drive a positive reaction from those consumers.

The report also studied how people conduct online shopping with 49% of respondents claiming they go directly to an online shopping site.  The remaining half of respondents were split between using search engines (25%), following email alert links (12%), using a portal or homepage (9%) and following links provided by friends (6%).

The AOL report also supports prior research from multiple organizations that claim online reviews are used frequently by consumers during the online research process prior to making a purchase decision.  The AOL study provides the following data from consumers when they were asked what is important to them when they’re looking for information prior to making a purchase decision:

  • 29% – Online reviews from people the consumer knows are very influential.
  • 26% – Online reviews from experts are very influential.
  • 22% – Online reviews from people the consumer doesn’t know (not experts) are very influential.

In fact, the 18-34 year old demographic is even more highly influenced by online reviews with 39% being very influenced by online reviews by consumers they know, 34% by online reviews by experts, and 34% by online reviews from people the 18-34 year old consumer doesn’t know.

So what can brand managers take away from the AOL report?  First, developing highly targeted and relevant online ads that enhance the user experience rather than interrupting it is key to success.  Second, leverage the power of online reviews on shopping sites as well as on social media sites such as blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.  You can do this by giving people positive things to talk about and then giving up control and letting them talk.  There is perhaps no form of marketing more powerful than word-of-mouth.  Let the social web do what it was made for and spread your brand messages and consumer experiences organically.  You can’t buy that kind of reach!

Image: stock.xchng

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.