“Bad Ads” is not a series per se, but I’ll do one when I see an especially bad campaign. If you’re curious, I discuss my qualifications at the end.
Issue 1: The ad itself
Let’s discuss a basic principle of graphic design… you basically read the biggest, highest-contrast thing first. That’s well represented by this common meme.
The ad I’ll critique is this one, which appeared on LinkedIn. What is the first thing you read?
While the title of Pluralsight’s video series appears three times in the ad (twice in the text surrounding the image and once in the ad image), the biggest and highest-contrast text is “A comedy of error messages.”
It’s not bad in that it gets you to want to click, but if you haven’t read all the surrounding text or noticed the video series name in the ad image, you’ll look for something representing that text in the landing page… which we’ll get to momentarily.
The title of the video series (and the landing page) is “Shoulda Seen It Coming.” In the ad image, it’s not only much smaller than the slogan, but the color of the letters are too similar to the color they’re against. That’s not only an accessibility issue for people with vision issues (LIKE ME – protanopic color blindness), but it’s like they’re trying to hide it.
If you’re trying to get people to watch the video series, make the title the biggest and highest-contrast letters in the image, then use the slogan as a subhead/quote. When a casual browser sees the slogan and clicks, the landing page will deliver a confusing experience.
Issue 2: The landing page
Casual browser, intrigued by the slogan, clicks through and finds this. As you scan it, play “where’s the slogan that got me to click and identifies the content I was expecting?”
“A comedy of error messages” is not only NOT “above the fold,” but the content you came for is more than 800 pixels from the top. But okay, here’s a call to action: “Watch all four episodes of Shoulda Seen It Coming now”
Great, I click a thumbnail… nothing happens. That’s because neither the thumbnails or episode titles link to the video. The link is a bit of text almost another 600 pixels down the page. Even on a QHD monitor with the browser maximized, the browser and OS chrome reduces the visible space to under 1400 pixels, meaning the actual links are below the fold on most mainstream monitors.
Now I’m ticked. You made me work WAY too hard to find the content you specifically advertised and now I have to work harder to find a working link to access it?
Scroll down to 1400+ pixels off the top, click the “watch episode” link for episode 1.
A white band appears at the top, scrolling is disabled, and a modal filter appears over the page to show that we’re now in the land of the newly opened box, not the page below it. But no video is loaded, no video plays, I cannot scroll up, and I’m now really ticked because they made me work for something they didn’t deliver.
I tried this with multiple browsers and found the reason. I apparently had visited Pluralsight in the past and rejected “unnecessary” cookies before this. When I went with another browser, if I accepted the cookies, the video showed. If I didn’t, I got some variation on the empty white modal window.
The LinkedIn ad obscures the actual title of the series, the headline setting an expectation the landing page doesn’t deliver. It doesn’t even have the word “comedy” on it.
The landing page advertises something much different than the ad you clicked with the promised content second. That’s not so terrible, but the ad’s so big, it pushes everything functional off the visible landing page and below the fold. Nothing above the fold is clickable to get what the LinkedIn ad used as a lure.
When you finally do find the actionable link to start the video, if you rejected the cookies via the pop-up (either on this visit or some time in the past), you cannot play the video and you’re left to diagnose how Pluralsight broke their own landing page.
What do you think?
Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Are there further sins I missed? Am I turning a molehill into a mountain? Comment below.
And now, as promised above…
Why am I qualified to critique?
Short answer: I have professional experience in advertising and marketing, even though I do not currently pursue roles where those are my primary functions.
Longer answer: Waaaay down in my resume… I wrote a few articles on online marketing in the 90s and tech edited Marketing Online For Dummies, which released in 1998. I created banner ads for IMDb as a vendor and employee, both for IMDb and IMDb ad clients (design samples), and I spent a good deal of time booking internal and client ads into IMDb’s ad management systems and generating campaign performance reports.