21.06.2017 by Marisa Krystian

Grabbing people’s attention online in 2017 is hard. Tech-savvy viewers are becoming increasingly desensitized by the constant flood of unwanted advertisements found on their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

You can’t read an article, watch a video, make a purchase, play a game, check your email or open social media without being bombarded by ads. But, not all ads are created equal. Some advertising formats are generally favored over others, making them more persuasive and memorable.

The Nielsen Normon Group ran a study to determine which advertising techniques are most disruptive and harmful to the modern user experience. Keep scrolling to see which types of ads to avoid when planning your next advertising campaign.

The Experiment

Nielsen Norman Group surveyed 452 adults in the U.S. that don’t work in IT or marketing. Participants were shown 23 wireframes resembling different types of advertisements and rated how much they hated them on a scale of 1 to 7.

Wireframes were shown for both desktop and mobile, when possible. If the ad didn’t translate to mobile, only the desktop version was displayed.

ad study wireframes

Wireframes were used instead of actual ads to avoid influencing users with the ad’s visual message, design, or brand. The ads within the wireframes were bright purple containing the text, “This is an advertisement.” Click here for a full list of the types of ads used in the study. Participants were also presented with an open-ended question to elaborate more about the types of advertisements they liked and disliked.

Data Breakdown

According to the study, the winner for most hated ad type on desktop is a four-way tie between modal ads, autoplay video ads, intracontent ads which shuffle page content as they load, and deceptive links that look like content but are ads. Their suggestion? Don’t run these types of ads if you want people to pay attention. ????

The study concluded that the most disliked ads on mobile were modal and intracontent ads with content reorganization, which were rated significantly higher than all other advertisement types. Related links was by far the mobile-ad winner. In fact, related links are the only advertising format NNG deems safe to use on mobile devices.

Key Takeaways

The Nielsen Norman Group concluded that there is no ‘correct’ answer for designers and marketers when it comes to successfully reaching audiences. There will always be some sort of resistance. You just need to walk a fine line between offering a good user experience and increasing advertising revenue. Check out a few fun facts below!

  • Modal ads, ads that reorganize content, and auto-playing video ads were among the most disliked.
  • Ads that are annoying on desktop become intolerable on mobile.
  • None of the ad types were particularly liked: the lowest average rating was 3.81.
  • People hate mobile ads more than they hate desktop ads (see column chart above).
  • For most ad types, the mobile and the desktop counterparts did not differ significantly.
  • Related-links ads were significantly more disliked on mobile than on desktop.
  • There was no difference in annoyance between top and bottom persistent banners.
  • Animated right-rail ads were rated as more disliked than nonanimated ones.
  • The ads that generated most positive comments were those which did not look like ads or were related to the user’s primary task.
  • Based on a previous NNG study, modal windows (modern day popups) and automatically playing audio are hated just as much as they were in the early 2000s.


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