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Advertising

The phenomenon of advertising permeates the web at almost all levels. In general terms, it is apparent as commercial policy in the form of business models such as Google AdWords (paid advertisements on the margins of search result lists, in an almost identical design and with links). Innovative devices (e.g., fading in the address of a nearby restaurant on a geolocalised device via Google Maps) can achieve the purpose of advertising relatively easily; it suffices to display the name and address on the map (although logos, images, links to company websites, ratings and virtually any other information can also be displayed). Traditional distinctions between marketing forms are cast in doubt as they may be intermixed or just one click apart, and so truly become parts of a single hypermedia construct.

The form of advertising recognisable to website users as such - “display ads” generally consisting in graphics, mostly with a language element - may be static, animated or interactive (Janoschka 2004: 52-62). Although some such messages do not include links, most do. For links are the ideal means to exploit the hyperstructures typical of the internet and so to lead the viewer on (to a company site, to additional content on a specially designed site or directly to an order form). A distinction is drawn here between the “‘initial advertising message’ [and the] ‘linked advertising message’ [...] with additional links which lead to further internal or external target places [...], the ‘extended advertising message’” (Janoschka 2004: 50). Particular problems are posed by variants such as pop-ups and fade-ins, which are invasive and may force users into further, undesired actions. Also classifiable as invasive are graphics where a simple (and often accidental) mouseover while surfing triggers additional effects such as audio messages. Pop-ups can be blocked by special software or using browser settings. In their counter-lobbying, the web industry and operators of internet services financed by advertising argue, for example, that they are dependent on advertising revenue. Pop-up blockers that simultaneously maintain whitelists for paying companies constitute a particularly perfidious business practice.

The term “banner advertising” derives, by analogy with outdoor advertising, from the most popular form of advertising space. In the broadest sense, this kind of advertising includes variants whose names in specialist jargon reflect their shapes, such as “(standard) banner”, “tile”, “leaderboard” and “skyscraper” (Maddison Multimedia 2015). Currently, framing and layered ads are in vogue. In this chapter we do not concern ourselves with purely visual images; instead, we concentrate on the messages conveyed by language or language-image combinations.

A study of classic banner advertising by Runkehl (2011: 293-305) demonstrates that this is steadily moving closer to “traditional” configurations (with a headline, slogan and logo) as advertising space increases, partly owing to desktop’s ever- larger screens. More text is also being integrated into less space in the form of “animated advertising message[s]” (p. 174), that is, banner cycles. Temporary deictics (e.g., “now free of charge”) are another special feature; the desired rapid user response to them is also necessary because banners may change in random sequence. Moreover, text clearly predominates over images. As we are dealing with graphics, typography is not bound by the usual font requirements; re-shaping (even distorting) a font can elicit associative responses and, in interaction with text and images, create original messages (cf. Ortner 2015). In Runkehl’s corpus, these opportunities are taken up only to a limited extent. Janoschka (2004:132-158) is especially interested in the linguistic means (e.g., questions, imperatives, personal and possessive pronouns) used to persuade users by integrating them communicatively and the role played by emotional modes of address (e.g., via trigger words or simplifications). However, involvement devices go beyond the purely linguistic and include devices such as fading in a “virtual smart agent” at strategic points in purchase decisions (cf. Veloso 2013:182).

Given that electronic screen displays can be changed so easily, it has become popular among marketeers to integrate eye-catching corporate design components from advertisers (e.g., the colour magenta for T-Mobile) throughout a web site such as a daily newspaper. One aspect of the general trend towards personalised advertising is the introduction of procedural flexibility to websites by means of context- sensitive content advertising in the form of so-called native ads that “promote engaging content with stories users want to read without changing the form and function of a website” (Native ads 2015). The ever-expanding range of web tools offer consumers involvement, sometimes with weighty - and desired - consequences: web site visitors who accepted an offer to use an image-editing application in order to “age” their photos on the web site of a financial services provider were more likely to buy a pension-related product (cf. Benartzi and Lehrer 2015).

The extent to which differing interests compete on websites is apparent from the fact that page views, one of the metrics of online advertising, are sometimes favoured to the detriment of readability, with content divided into several modules to generate clicks. This has implications for text, which must incorporate, at critical points, strong incentives to click ahead. Nodder (2013) has focused on devious ways “to lead [web users] into temptation” with internet advertising.

 
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