Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you’re surfing the web, wasting some time and—click, click . . . click, click, click. You’ve gone down a banner-ad rabbit hole and wake up one day surrounded by things you shouldn’t have bought?

“What just happened?” you think, “So much for banner blindness.”

Well, 86 percent of consumers do suffer from banner blindness—the tendency over time for web page visitors to stop “seeing” the banner. Advertising companies respond to this trend in two different ways: hide promotional messages in native ads or use human psychology to against consumers. The first option is demands a lot of resources, while the second is very familiar to advertising companies. To understand how often we face attempts to manipulate us through aggressive ads, we decided to analyze banners on 1000 popular websites.

Using AI to Analyze More Than 21,685 Banners

Analyzing such a large amount of data is time-consuming. So, we turned to artificial intelligence. Fortunately, StopAd’s AI hasn’t learned how to say “No” yet. Below is our roadmap.

AI research ad banners
Phase One: We create the guidelines for our AI. We analyzed studies in the psychology of advertising field, to make the selection criteria for banners. As a result, we received three basic types: typical, aggressive, and sub-standard ads.
Phase Two: We manually collected examples of each type of banners to teach our AI. We use our bots for parsing.
Phase Three: We asked our AI to analyze banners from Alexa TOP-1000 global websites. As a result, we got three directories with 21,685 of banners.
Phase Four: We manually analyzed those banners to identify aggressive language.
Finally, we used research results to create a cliche ad anatomy, which clearly shows the most popular methods advertising companies use to manipulate us.

What Did We Learn?

ad banners stats

12.7% of banner ads on Alexa TOP-1000 are aggressive.

According to studies, aggressive ads strive to affect your feelings with specific colors. The most common are red, orange, and yellow. To find out how these colors affect the buyer’s behavior we asked Dr. Ari Zelmanow, a pioneer in the fields of consumer psychology, marketing, and branding.

“Evidence shows that these colours convey feelings of arousal, excitement and, in marketing, are intended to elicit action and attention. Since arousal is a physiological state, characterized by higher adrenaline, blood pressure, and heart rate, you literally “feel” more activated, and an activated consumer may be more likely to engage in impulse buying. The reality is, when you create scenarios when people operate on “autopilot,” i.e. Daniel Kahnemann’s Type 1 thinking, people spend less much time rationalizing or debating, and they’re more likely to act now”— considers Dr. Zelmanow.

Red (31,9% of aggressive ads) creates a sense of urgency, which is good for clearance sales. It also encourages appetite, thus it is frequently used by fast-food chains. It’s been found that seeing red shortly before an IQ test will drastically lower your scores—a great start for impulsive buying.

Orange (8% of aggressive ads) trigger a sense of caution, communicate vitality, exuberance, playfulness, and fun—which is probably why it’s popular for tech and household products.

Yellow (6,5% of aggressive ads) is bright enough to grab a consumer’s attention from a distance and is popular for classic outdoor ads. Yellow also communicates optimism and energy which is commonly used for restaurant, travel agency, and even petrol ads.

30% of banner ads on Alexa TOP-1000 are sub-standard.

Yes, and this is not a joke. We are bombarded with ads that don’t even correspond to quality standards!

Sub-standard ads don’t correspond to the “rules” for ads. They incorrectly combine colors (green, yellow, or purple on a green background, light colors on a white background, rainbow colors, etc.) and contain colored text with a colored border or too many words.

Additionally, some research says that mistakes attract our attention. Consequently, we can categorize these banners as “aggressive”—they use jarring mixes of colors, visuals, or text to strongly draw your attention to the ad.

For example, you think a tacky color combination (like blue and red) seem to rip out your eyeballs. It’s a fact that your brain gets hijacked to see these colors in an illusion of 3D. Some aspects appear to recede, while others seem to float forward. It’s called chromostereopsis. It’s annoying and hard for your eyes, but it also irritates your nervous system and grabs your attention.

57.3% of banner ads on Alexa TOP-1000 are typical.

Remember this cliché ad video? Typical banner ads are those we call “classic.” They use the same clichés to grab our attention—colors, language, and visuals—but not offensively so.

For example, blue induces a sense of security and trust, which is why you see a bunch of blue ads for medical, tech, and security companies. Black, which corresponds to status and sophistication, is used for advertising luxury retail and cars. Green is associated with nature, health, and growth, which works well with finance and food ad ideas. Purple is commonly associated with success and respect. It stimulates problem-solving as well as creativity. Purples are frequently used to promote beauty and anti-aging products.

As our expert, Dr Ari Zelmanow considers, we develop preferences for colors, based on our emotional experiences with those colors over time. According to the the Ecological valence theory (Palmer & Schloss, 2010) the more enjoyment and positive affect an individual receives from experiences with objects of a given color, the more the person will tend to like that color.

“The reason for this can be explained by the associative network theory (Bower, 1981). Our brain contains an associative network — an interconnected web of knowledge all shaped by experience, culture, and context. This “web” is how we relate new things to known things. It is also the reason that you might think of something and then think about something else that is seemingly unrelated, i.e. the smell of cookies and your first bike”,— commented Dr Zelmanow.

41.6% of banner ads on Alexa TOP-1000 contain aggressive language.

Words sell. The question is, which words?

We analyzed how often certain words (as well as words we commonly see on banners) are used in banner ads. We made groups of words it according to their psychological impact on users. Below you can find the eight groups of most frequent with commentary of Consumer Psychologist Ari Zelmanow.

Free, off, Discount, Save—21% of banners
These words appeal to our fear of losing an opportunity to get something without any efforts. For example, Dr. Ari Zelmanow thinks that the word “free” is playing on the human disposition to avoid risk.

“This is the result of a psychological principle called Affect (fancy way of saying feelings), which impacts “free” in two ways. First, free products make people happier than those that people have to pay for; second, happiness impacts decision-making”—he said.

Limited-Time Offer, Now, Today, Only—18%
On some banners, “now” means the promise to provide services immediately which is extremely important in our fast-paced age. On others, it stimulates users to do something quickly. In these that cases, it was coupled with language that creates additional urgency.

“Certain words definitely prompt people to take action. For example, the concept of urgency is a powerful aspect of human psychology. Words that are linked to this concept, i.e. “now,” prompt a response”, — said Dr. Ari Zelmanow.

New, Learn more, Find out more, Discover —17%
This word affects consumerists (which, admittedly is about 90 percent of us). We want everything cutting edge, even if it’s not really all that new, exciting, or innovative.

“There are certain words that are “hardwired” into our brains. For example, neuroscience shows words like “new” activate the brain’s reward center. This also prompts an action”, —considers Dr Zelmanow.

You, Your—15%
Let’s be honest, when it comes to you, you’re all ears. This word makes an ad more personal and relevant. “You” is the most powerful word in advertising today.

Try, Trial—11%
“Try” and “Trial” are tricks to make you think you are getting the benefit without committing.

Result, More—8%
This word manipulates the rationalists among us, which seek real purpose for a purchase. It’s frequently used in business ads and advertisements targeting productivity-minded consumers.

“Click” has replaced the more aggressive “buy.” It is a cunning word that does not require anything serious from us (certainly not to spend money). Nevertheless, “click” attracts attention and plays into advertisers’ hands.

Winner, Win —3%
This attention-grabbing word is associated with something valuable and free. It also evokes emotions of success and power.

The final question we have—are you OK with the idea to see these manipulative ads everywhere online? If now, check how easy and convenient can be your online life with StopAd and without the ads.