SEATTLE: Display ads are more likely to motivate consumer action than their search counterparts, according to the results of two years of research undertaken by the Atlas Institute, part of Microsoft's ad-serving arm Atlas.

The study aimed to assess the effectiveness of the various different elements of advertisers' online expenditure, and included the month-long analysis of some 500 ad campaigns running on 1,000 websites.

Its findings suggest that when consumers search for a product or service, they generally already know what they want to buy, a decision that is strongly influenced by display ads, even if web users don't click on a display ad itself.

Says Ben Winkler, director of interactive media at The Martin Agency: "Obviously, Microsoft has a motive to shift dollars from search to display advertising because it is getting creamed in the search space.”

“But this does help us get a much better picture of how our online advertising is working."

Nielsen Online reported that display advertising declined by 6% in the first half of 2008 (with financial services recording a drop of 27%), while overall internet adspend – including search – increased by 11%, and rich media ads up by some 60%.

Jennifer Zola, partner and director of strategy and insights at Mediaedge:cia, commented: "Search is still just as powerful. But things like display that looked really bad before aren't as bad. Now we can prove it."

Data Sourced from the Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff