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How the “Interruption Curve” Should Change Your Ad Campaign

Online marketers have a powerful tool that other channels lack: instant data on how well an ad works. Every click on the ad is tracked, and ad performance can be evaluated with surgical precision. At least, that’s what marketers like to think—but it may not hold true when the interruption curve is at play.

The interruption curve refers to how much an ad interrupts a user’s online experience. Advertisers often see interruption as a good thing because it’s a sure way to get attention. But users respond differently to ads that disrupt their experience. The ads don’t necessarily become less effective, but they’re less likely to result in an immediate click. Instead, interruptive ads lead to an “I’ll look this up later” response. That throws a wrench in campaign evaluation.

So how is an ad “interruptive”? Here are a few examples, from minimum interruption to maximum:

  • Search: Search ads present literally no interruption at all. When a user searches Google, they’re asking for a specific kind of information. A relevant ad in the search results is a link to that information. Not only does it not detract from the search experience, it actually completes the process for them. Thus, a good search ad will result in immediate clicks, and tracking its effectiveness in CTR (click-through rate) makes sense.
  • Articles/content: Reading an article is an experience in itself, and ideally it answers the user’s question or meets their need. That means that ads in an article are at best a related next step, and are often extraneous. Taking time to click on the ad interrupts the reading experience—even if the ad ends up delivering value. This changes user behavior, making them less likely to click (even when it intrigues them). But the ad is only a little disruptive, since it’s (hopefully) related to the article at hand.
  • Social: Social media ads can be effective, but now you’re asking users to change intention. Most people don’t go to social channels to seek out information or research products. They’re there to socialize. Even the most intriguing ads are less likely to get clicks, because clicking means changing gears. The disruption level here is fairly high.
  • Videos: Ads are huge interruptions when you’re watching a video. It’s easy to leave Facebook or an article and come back later, but not as easy to duck out of a video. Plus, most ads are played before the video starts. That leaves users straining to hurry past it and get to the good stuff. In this environment, successful ads will not generate (primarily) clicks. Users can be intrigued by the ad, but want to watch their chosen video rather than clicking through.

The fascinating thing is that high-interruption ads are still highly effective—but brands might not even know it. Imagine if you ran a Youtube TrueView ad series and got almost no clicks. Wouldn’t you consider it a failure? But it might not be, if the ads are repeated so often that users start to search for your brand. These searches could come hours or weeks later and would look like organic traffic. The ad worked, it just jumped channels.

Once you understand the interruption curve you can deploy it strategically. For example:

  1. Use different metrics for high-interruption ads. Ads in social, display, internet radio or video should not be evaluated primarily by CTR. Instead, look for an increase in traffic and brand searches over the course of weeks. And look for increases in sales during these campaigns, even when the sales aren’t clear referrals.
  2. Leverage the curve to save money. Most ads are still priced per-click. But we know that moderate to high interruption ads result in sales without click-through. That means you get customers without paying the advertising cost. For the right campaign, a low budget will go farther on social or display ads than on AdWords. Or, keep AdWords and use social as a cheap but effective add-on.

EverSpark Interactive knows how to build online marketing campaigns that work. Ask us for your free consultation today.