Online Advertising: Factors That Influence Customer Experience

August 17, 2009

Psychological factors such as thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition directly correlate with our customers’ online advertising experience. Making customers feel like wanting to do something requires us to offer a completely enthralling experience, not one that has negative connotations for our customers. Today, we often see advertisements that clamor for our attention, begging us to view them. Customers’ past experiences with the Web set their expectations for online advertising today. How can we shift this prevalent advertising paradigm to one that instead has psychological appeal?

In this article, I’ll discuss the cognitive elements at the intersection of advertising and human behavior. By taking an approach to advertising that looks at the impact psychological factors have on customer behavior, I’ve learned that customers respond directly to online advertisements, as we can see from their emotions, behavior, and interactions on the Web.

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Companies should aim to strengthen customer interactions with advertisements on the Web, keeping both context and cognition in mind. Unfortunately, most companies provide a generic experience to all customers rather than relying on customer analysis to deliver a personalized experience. They’ve failed to innovate and bring the online advertising experience to a whole new level of interaction and integration that would truly let them achieve effective communication.

A Customer Experience Model for Advertising

As people experience the world and respond to stimuli around them, emotions arise. Their reactions manifest themselves as physiological changes they experience as feelings. Likewise, as people react to stimuli online—for example, to an online advertisement—they have emotional responses that are directly proportional to their reactions to these stimuli.

On the other hand, when customers repeatedly experience the same stimuli, they may not cause any emotional response. People become conditioned to ignore the ever-present ads on Web sites, which is called ad blindness. How can we prevent this?

  1. Create a new customer experience, using existing touchpoints.

When companies use existing touchpoints to deliver new experiences to customers, the familiar method of engagement lets customers feel comfortable as they go through new experiences.

  1. Create a new touchpoint for a new customer experience.

When customers experience new interactions, their emotional responses are heightened, and they may have a different behavioral response.

The Cannon-Bard Theory that Walter Cannon and Philip Bard have advocated suggests human beings feel emotions first, then act upon them. When customers visit your Web site, the ads they encounter evoke an emotional response—before they even decide what their next step should be. If ads don’t trigger customers’ emotions, they won’t take any action in response.

Creating a New Customer Experience Using Existing Touchpoints

Here are some of the advertising touchpoints companies often use.

Banner Ads

Banner ads attract customers’ attention through color, graphics, and, sometimes, animation. Because banners link to advertisers’ Web sites, they attract customers to your advertisers’ sites.

Email Messages

Companies use the email model of advertising to cross-sell and up-sell their products, to try to acquire potential new customers, to persuade existing customers to buy again, to enhance customer loyalty, and to build long-lasting relationships with customers.

Interstitial Ads

Interstitial, or bridge, ads appear automatically as customers move between the pages of a Web site, making customers wait for another page to load. Customers do not choose to view these ads, but they can choose not to read them and advance to the next page.

Online Directories

This form of advertising allows companies to gain visibility through online directories that help customers find them easily, using a search engine. Online directories don’t actually advertise a company’s products or services, but do provide access to its Web site.

Pay-Per-Click Ads

The pay-per-click (PPC) advertising model is the most common form of advertising on the Web. This model occurs on search engines, advertising networks, content Web sites, and blogs. Since advertisers pay only when customers click their ads, the companies that display these ads benefit only when customers click them. Many companies depend on this form of advertising to generate revenues.

Pop-Up Ads

Pop-up ads appear in a separate window. They interrupt the flow of customers’ current tasks. The only way to move ahead is to close the window in which the ad appears or click the window containing the site that caused the ad to appear.

Pop-Down Banner Ads

On the other hand, pop-down ads appear beneath the content on a Web page, on a banner at the bottom of the page. Customers have to look at and click these ads to get rid of them.

Search Engine Optimization

This form of Internet marketing seeks to promote a company’s Web site by increasing its visibility on search engine results pages. Customers usually click results that are highly ranked. Companies can target different segments like image search, local search, and industry-specific vertical search.

Sky Scrapers

Sky-scraper ads have the same function and properties as banner ads, but the rectangular boxes containing them have a vertical rather than a horizontal layout. These ads usually appear on the right side of a page and are linked to the advertiser’s Web site.

Social Networking

Companies have begun to advertise and promote themselves and their products and services on social networking sites, where they can get direct access to a community of potential customers. This kind of advertising works best when it results from word-of-mouth or when a group exists for people who want to know what is happening with a company or product.


To gain visibility, companies can sponsor a Web site or a certain section of a Web site where their ads appear. The Web has adopted this concept from the real world, because it provides scope for better business opportunities. The combination of activity-based sponsorship and media-related sponsorship is an interesting mix that innovation has extended in new directions.

Creating Touchpoints for a New Customer Experience

In addition to the existing advertising touchpoints I’ve just mentioned, companies must also begin using advertising techniques that evoke an emotional response from customers as they surf online. Through strategic planning, they need to develop new marketing touchpoints and use them to create emotional connections with their customers.

According to the psychologist Carl Jung, every individual has a primary mode of operation in each of the following four categories:

  1. our flow of energy
  2. how we take in information
  3. how we prefer to make decisions
  4. the basic day-to-day lifestyle we prefer

Within each of these categories, we prefer to be either

  • Extraverted or Introverted
  • Sensing or Intuitive
  • Thinking or Feeling
  • Judging or Perceiving

Advertisers can target their ads to appeal to people with specific characteristics.

Next, I’ll describe some creative advertising approaches you can take to reach your customers.

Behavioral Advertising

As the term suggests, behavioral advertising observes customers’ behavior as they move from one Web page or site to another. When following this advertising model, companies target ads to specific individuals, based on each customer’s past surfing behavior. Because behavioral advertising tracks customers’ interests, there is an increased likelihood that they’ll want the product or service advertised and be motivated to click an ad. With this method, different customers do not see the same ads on a Web page. There are several factors that help people to identify an ad that would bring them benefit. These variable factors should be motivating enough to ensure people act on the information.

Content Lures

One clever technique to attract customers’ attention is to lure them with interesting content. One of the ways to do this is to appeal to people’s emotions. Arousing feelings of love, concern, fear, stress, desire, enjoyment, bliss, or satisfaction helps prospective customers feel closer to the company or product that is featured in an advertisement.

Contextual Approaches

As customers pursue their goals on Web sites, they go through task flows within a context that allows them to reach those goals. Providing ads in such a context can help customers move toward their goals more quickly, provide a better sense of what they can accomplish, and perceive the context more clearly. Customers can process information either centrally or peripherally. With the context approach to advertising, customers tend to process the information centrally, so the effect of acting on it is greater, because the information they’re processing is already within context of need.

Creative Attraction

Customer perception of this kind of advertising can be really subjective, but creative attraction advertising is moving in a positive direction. When an ad has creative visuals and content, customers sense and intuitively take in the information as the ad presents it. The information in creative content reflects customers’ desired next steps. It lets people react and feel before they start thinking and making judgments.


Advertising today is rarely humorous. Customers are engaged by humor, which involves sensing what is not ordinary. Humor sells well, because it gets customers’ attention and is memorable.


Information is the most important factor driving customers through their tasks. When an ad provides valuable information, customers want to know more. It gets them interested. It lets people think and feel and moves them toward making judgments.


When ads are interactive, customers become engrossed in them. Interactivity achieves the first mode of operation I mentioned earlier: the flow of energy. It then moves customers in the right direction, depending on the context and content of the advertisement. When you provide customers with interactive content, they want to find a reason to move ahead.


When companies present ads to the right target audience in the right location, their awareness of cultural differences can ensure customers make the desired moves online. When ads present information that is of cultural significance to customers, those customers are more likely to be receptive to and take in the information. The next level of sensing and intuition is likely to move them in a positive direction.

Product Placements

By making advertising less intrusive, product placements in movies, television serials, books, songs, and magazines are greatly appealing to the customer’s psyche. Rather than selling products, advertisers place their products within a context that plays on customers’ desires. Because they present a product within an almost real-life scenario, product placements make complete sense.

Special Offers

This technique of persuasion is very successful, because the special offers, add-ons, and freebies that come with a product or service motivate customers. Special offers are lures that encourage customers to buy more. Again, what special offers are appropriate depends on the context of customers’ needs and behavioral patterns.

Target Audiences

When browsing online, most people have a tendency to behave and react with emotions that are appropriate to the context. However, the basic, day-to-day lifestyles we prefer affect our judgment and perceptions. So, even when companies target advertising to particular audiences to which customers belong, people tend to judge products and services according to their needs. But if companies target their ads at the right audience, they’ll be well received.

Visual Lures

The visual allure of an advertisement can attract customers, making this one of the most important aspects of an ad. An ad’s look and feel an sway people before they’ve even taken in its content. It’s the customers’ first impression that moves them toward their next step.

Welcoming Imagery

An advertisement’s welcoming imagery is important in gaining customers’ attention. Welcoming imagery includes people and real-life contexts and is a vital first step to luring customers with interesting content.

Next Step: Choose Your Ads’ Context and Approach

There are several forms of advertising that could gain your customers’ attention, but choosing the right one depends on the context for your ad. In fact, choosing the right approach makes all the difference. You can use creative combinations of the approaches I’ve described to enhance your customers’ response.

Table 1 provides a summary of these advertising approaches and the factors that attract customers to ads. Use this information to help you decide on the right approach to take.

Table 1—Factors that attract customers to ads
Type of Ad High Attraction Moderate Attraction


Targets individual customers

Based on context and customers’ needs

Motivates customers to process information

Content Lure

Appealing to customers’ emotions

Moves customers to their next steps

Makes customers want to know more

Contextual Approach

Based on customers’ needs

Culturally significant

Blends in with surrounding content

Creative Attraction

Rarely used, but when used, is highly attractive

Provides a different flavor

Moves away from the mundane associations of advertising

Customers subjectively perceive creativity


Rarely used, but when used, gets customers’ attention

Provides a different flavor

Moves away from the mundane associations of advertising

Customers subjectively perceive humor


Based on context and customers’ needs

Relevant to customers

Motivates customers to process information

An excess of information can add to customers’ cognitive load


Gets customers’ attention

Engages customers’ motor and cognitive skills

Motivates customers to process information


Based on customers’ needs

Culturally significant

Blends in with surrounding content

For a specific audience; ignores the rest

Product Placement


Subliminal information processing affects the psyche positively

Shows the product in a real-life scenario

Special Offer

Most persuasive

Motivates customers to process information

Based on customers’ needs

Target Audience

Based on customers’ needs

Culturally significant

Blends in with surrounding content

Visual Lure

Makes a good first impression

Gets customers’ attention

Emotionally appealing

Motivates customers to process information

Welcoming Imagery

Warm imagery attracts customers’ attention

Emotionally appealing

Motivates customers to process information

In Conclusion

Why do we feel a certain way when we encounter an advertisement online? Why do we ignore ads? Why do we choose to view them? What makes us smile at them? We have physiological and cognitive responses to ads. We experience emotions in response to what we see.

How do our emotional reactions affect the way we behave in response to ads? Like people’s everyday reactions to their environments and the events they encounter, our customers’ reactions to viewing advertisements cause physiological changes to occur in their bodies, resulting in cognitive changes and arousal. People interpret advertisements according to these stimuli and have emotional responses to them—ranging from anxiety or mistrust to interest or delight—emotions that, in turn, lead to the appropriate physiological responses.

Event Arousal Arrow Interpretation Arrow Response

The physiological changes that accompany our customers’ emotional responses to advertisements determine their next action forward. The context in which an advertisement appears determines whether the ad constitutes an effective call to action. Therefore, the way you should apply and combine the approaches I’ve described in this article depends on what you want to convey. While the advertising approaches that typically result in moderate attraction do affect customers, their perception of them can be subjective. Nevertheless, depending on their context of use, such approaches can prove highly effective. 


Brooke, Roger. Pathways into the Jungian World: Phenomenology and Analytical Psychology. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Cartellieri, Caroline, Andrew J. Parsons, Varsha Rao, and Michael P. Zeisser. “The Real Impact of Internet Advertising.” The McKinsey Quarterly, No. 3, 1997.

Schumann, David W., and Esther Thorson. Advertising and the World Wide Web. Philadelphia, PA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.

Sutherland, Max, and Alice K. Sylvester. Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2000.

Senior Omni-Channel Commerce Consultant

London, UK

Afshan KirmaniWith over ten years of experience in customer experience, Afshan delivers ecommerce experiences based on omni-channel content and commerce solutions. She specializes in conversion-centric design, using behavioral psychology to persuade and drive conversions. Her projects focus on discovery and definition for content management and commerce platforms, and her design solutions have a proven track record of delivering growth in strategic accounts and revenue streams within global enterprises. Afshan has worked on Web sites and applications that take a mobile-first, responsive approach to produce designs that span hand-held devices, wearables, and retail kiosks. Her experience touches on social media, analytics, applications that leverage personalized content, and user experiences that optimize customer retention to increase sales.  Read More

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