The theme for Forrester’s upcoming Consumer Forum is “Humanizing The Digital Experience.” What makes a digital experience more human? First, it must be useful. Second, it must be usable to the point that the technology fades into the background. Finally, the best digital experiences are desirable enough to stimulate action (e.g. buying a product, or telling a friend about the experience).

After years of clumsy and cold web sites, examples of desirable experiences are starting to pop up everywhere. Witness and NASCAR’s PitCommand (a mobile application in which fans can track in real-time the speed, RPM, throttle, position, and time of their favorite driver). These are great, but can every online experience be desirable? What about when a company is trying to sell you something?

Is there such thing as a desirable banner ad?

Many “undesirable” ads get noticed, precisely because they are obnoxious, loud, or otherwise impossible to ignore. The jingle is the classic proof point (my favorite local earworm goes like this “Bernie & Phil’s – Quality, Comfort, and Price – That’s nice!). Undesirable online ads are annoying eyeblasters, the ads that you have to click through to enter the site, and (of course) the ubiquitous pop-up.

My colleagues and I came up with a few ads that we think clear the desirable bar. Often, these ads are funny, but some also offer an educational or emotional value. The best of these ads also recognize that the ad is part of the larger experience, in which the ad piques enough interest to direct someone to a useful, usable, and desirable site. Some favorites are:

1) Reebok’s Terry Tate commercials. Reebok is mentioned almost as an after-thought, but Terry’s hilarious depiction of an unconventional corporate executive (The Office Linebacker) sure makes this memorable. Couple this with some in-store signage featuring Terry Tate and Reebok shoes, and you have aided recognition at the point-of-purchase. Pure marketing genius.
2) Smirnoff’s Tea a web site for anyone who wants to watch Amagansett preppies in a rap video. Again, there’s very little mention of the product, but it’s viral nature could make the soft sell more effective.
3) Procter & Gamble’s CoverGirl which once ran a banner ad encouraging women to “Get Color Matched”. The ad linked to’s online beauty consultation where woman answered questions about their hair color, skin tone, and make-up preferences. CoverGirl used this profile to personalize the site and follow-up emails to the individual.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. What are some of your favorite desirable (and undesirable) online ads?

More importantly, should online marketers always strive to create desirable ads, or is there still a place online for obnoxious marketing?

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