July 31st, 2005
Salon.com, an online magazine, recently changed the way they handle their Site-Pass advertising system. It’s an interesting change with subtle implications and has a lot to do with some of the research we’ve done in persuading people to pay attention to advertising.
If you haven’t seen Salon’s old Site-Pass system, it worked like this: if you wanted to read an article on the site, you were given a choice to signing up to be a premium member (which cost money) or getting a free one-day pass to the site. The price for the one-day pass? You had to watch an advertisement. After watching the ad, you had free access to the site for an entire day. If you return tomorrow, well, you have to watch another ad.
The mechanism is provided by a company called Ultramercial. At first glance, it might seem that the Ultramercial Site-Pass idea is a winner: advertisers get a dedicated chance to really impress a site user. Different from the various types of flash distraction methods that we see on sites today, Ultramercial is making a proposition: view our movie and we’ll let you have access to a site other people have to pay for.
But, from what we can tell, it doesn’t really work any better than any other advertising model out there. The folks advertising with Ultramercial aren’t seeing radically better results than any other campaign type. (It apparently gets slightly higher click-through, but it’s not clear those click-throughs produce any return on investment.) And it seems that Ultramercial hasn’t successfully convinced any other sites, beyond Salon, to play along.
So, they made a change: Instead of making the Site Pass proposition when the user chooses an article from the home page, they now make the user watch the movie before even seeing the home page. If you go to the site today, you get the choice screen before you ever see the home page.
Salon.com Splash Page makes users choose to sign up or get a Site Pass before they can see the home page.
It’s too early to tell if this will work better. Certainly, Salon is likely to lose some casual readers who aren’t willing to sit through the ad or sign up for the premium service. But most of their hardcore readership will continue past the page. And that readership already has premium access or has demonstrated they are willing to put up with the movies.
But that’s not the big issue. The big issue is whether the advertisers get any more share of mind. Will a user, watching the ad, actually pay attention to it? Or will they just count the moments until the ad passes by, so they can get to what they really wanted?
That’s the problem that the old system suffered from. Users were enticed by the headlines for articles on the home page enough to click. At that moment, their focus was on reading the article. If a user, intrigued by the headline “Why Hillary Clinton is Unelectable”, clicks on the corresponding link, will they really pay attention to a movie about Absolut’s newest peach vodka?
Back in 1998, Tara Scanlon wrote an article about seducible moments. A seducible moment is the point at which designers can entice users off the path to their original goal with the lure of something else. (I subsequently talked about them again in an article talking about how Sears & Dell sell financing on their sites.)
In our research, we found seducible moments work best after users have accomplished their goals, not before. When a user selects an article to read from the Salon home page, it is likely they are too focused on that article to pay any attention to anything else. So, that’s why the old Site Pass system didn’t work too well.
The new one comes at an interesting point, though. It’s before the user has refined their goal beyond “Let’s see what Salon is saying today.” Since that goal is still really coarse, it’s possible that users are more distractible by the ad. Hopefully, for Salon’s sake, that’s true.Tweet