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Everything Counts in Online Ad Design - Except Gender

Two separate studies strongly suggest that an online ad's design does not have to take into account the likely gender of the viewer to make an impact. It is an interesting conclusion, given the ever-proliferating wealth of data that shows how important everything else is in this respect, down to the position, size and shape of a mobile ad's buttons.

No Pink

First, the gender studies: The Journal of Marketing Research recently published a study that looked at whether designing public service ads about breast cancer did well when they were tailored to women. It seems to be an obvious conclusion, however a series of six experiments led researchers to conclude that design in such ads actually made women less likely to remember the ads. (via the Wall Street Journal).

The results suggest that such a gender-linked ad causes women to become defensive and unconsciously ignore or downplay a message that may make them feel threatened, Steven Sweldens, an author of the study and an assistant professor of marketing at the business school INSEAD, told the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog. Nader Tavassoli of the London Business School and Stefano Puntoni of the Rotterdam School of Management, also participated in the research.

Better performing ads were those that used neutral colors, had no female images and started with "hey you", the researchers found.

Faces, Not Bodies

Another recent study conducted by EyeTrackShop concluded that - with a few surprising differences - both sexes look at various online ads in the same manner. EyeTrackShop enlisted 100 participants using test ads from the H&M website, Reebok and Saab to determine how, if at all, gender plays a role in the way consumers look at ads, packages and other stimuli. One exception was women's images. Men spent 40% more time looking at their faces, as opposed to bodies,  than women.

eyetracking by gender

What Counts?

Everything else, though, apparently counts, as any multivariate test will reveal. A recent post on Google Mobile Ads blog discusses the importance of placement and designs of buttons on mobile ads.

In short big, well spaced buttons with clear calls to action will likely result in more conversions, it said. And if an action cannot be completed with just a thumb movement it shouldn’t be there at all. "Think about the way you hold your phone. More often than not it's in just one hand and because your fingers are gripping the phone from behind, you are left only with your thumb for navigation of the screen. The thumb is far less precise than a mouse pointer."

For that reason, it is best to transform links into big buttons to allow for greater levels of inaccuracy, it said. Go here to read other tips from Google on mobile ad design.


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