Study: 63% of Americans ignore Internet ads

Faith Merino · December 3, 2010 · Short URL:

Which ads are least effective in grabbing users' attention?

A lot of things bother me.  I hate when people say, “News flash” when they think they’re about to say something really show-stopping.  I hate when people say, “Okay…too much information,” or even worse, when they abridge it to “TMI.”  I hate when people make “man cave” jokes and think they’re being really clever.  But most of all, I hate when I catch myself laughing at a commercial.  I laughed at a Capital One commercial the other day and immediately felt ashamed and apologized to everyone in the room.

But a new study released by AdWeek Media and Harris Interactive reveals that most of those people probably weren’t even paying attention to the commercial and didn’t know what I was laughing at in the first place.  Data shows that 91% of Americans ignore ads.  I don’t think anyone will find this surprising, since they’re probably ignoring the flashing banner ad at the top of this page right now. 

So which ads are least effective at seizing users’ attention?  Surprise!  Internet ads!  Fully 63% of those polled said they ignore Internet ads more than any other type of advertisement.  Of that 63%, two-thirds said they ignore banner ads the most, while the remaining third said they ignore search engine ads the most. 

Which users are more likely to ignore Internet ads?  In terms of gender, the poles are split pretty evenly, with slightly more women ignoring ads than men.  Of those polled, 42% of men and 45% of women said they ignore Internet banner ads, while 20% of men and 21% of women said they ignore search engine ads.  The real differences arise in the various age groups.  Respondents aged 35-44 were more likely than other age groups to say they ignore Internet banner ads (47%), compared to 42% of those aged 18-34 and 43% of those aged 45 and older.

Education also plays a role in who is more likely to ignore ads.  Of the total respondents, 69% of those with a college degree said they ignore Internet banner ads and search engine ads, compared to 57% of those with a high school education or less. 

The tables turn when it comes to other forms of advertising, however.  Respondents with a high school education or less are more likely to ignore TV ads than those with a college education (which makes me feel a little bit better about laughing at a Capital One commercial).  Similarly, older respondents were more likely to ignore TV ads than younger respondents—20% of those aged 55 and older compared to just 9% of those aged 18-34.

From the looks of these numbers, advertisers have nothing to worry about.  To be honest, I’m surprised the numbers weren’t higher.  Of course, advertisers learned a while ago that the most effective ads are those that are tailored to be most relevant to consumers, but this might soon become obsolete with the FTC’s recent recommendation to create a “do not track” feature, which would give Internet users the choice to opt out of being tracked by advertisers.  Lawmakers are considering the recommendation, but they are split on the issue.  Many worry that the creation of such a feature could harm the recovering economy, and some are considering whether or not the law can be implemented just for child users.

“If someone were following you around in the physical world — tailing you and making note of everywhere you go, what you read, what you eat, who you see, what music you listen to, what you buy, what you watch — you might find this disturbing,” said Susan Grant, the director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, to the New York Times. 

Despite all the hubbub, online ad revenues are at a record high this year, up 17% from last year.

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