Why do people actively ignore and complain about Google Ads but happily buy their groceries from paid positions in supermarkets?

Our recent survey, to determine whether people using search engines can tell the difference between paid and organic results, told us that 42.5% of the web users tested knew a paid advert when they saw it. (You can read the full results by clicking here)

But we also uncovered another interesting fact: A massive 82% of people who know what paid listings are actively choose NOT to click on them.


Users get frustrated at Google Ads but seldom complain that supermarkets are doing the same thing and then not telling shoppers what are paid positions on the shelves and what aren't.

This group primarily consisted of males and females aged between 18 and 34. Around 41.1% of these individuals will avoid clicking on an advert on Google. Of people aged 35 upwards, this drops to 31.2%.

So, our research suggests that younger people are more likely to be aware of ads in Google search and more likely to purposefully avoid clicking on them. This is perhaps not completely surprising. Advertising techniques do not always work across multi-generations. People under 35 have grown up with access to the internet and social media on their smartphones, tablets and laptops and this connectivity has given them other ways to decide whether to buy something. Advertising industry research concludes that this generation will go to friends on social media or independent online reviews before buying something and they are much less likely to respond to ‘push advertising’ like PPC. They don’t like being sold to.

But if we look at the retail sector traditional advertising seems to be thriving. For example, supermarket stores are not that different from search engines in the off-line world of selling consumable goods. They provide us with convenient access to a wide variety of products and we trust our favourites. They have to decide which of the 1000s of products they are going to place in their retail space – and which of these should be featured in the most prominent positions – just like search engines do.

And guess what – they sell these prominent positions to suppliers in the same way that search engines sell to their advertisers. Supermarkets don’t just make money on the small margin between buying and selling goods. In reality, a large proportion of revenue comes directly from suppliers who pay to get their products featured in-store.

British retailers don’t publish how much of their revenue is generated from what they call ‘commercial income’ but industry specialists estimate the top four supermarket chains make over £5bn a year direct from selling promotional opportunities to suppliers.

Comparing this to our survey results, do 42.5% of people who visit a supermarket store know they are being sold to by paying advertisers? And if they did would a large proportion simply refuse to buy because of this? If an 18 – 34 old walked past an end of aisle display and saw a bottle of wine on offer would over 80% decide not to buy it simply because the supplier had paid to put it there? What percentage of people know that suppliers can pay supermarkets listing or placement fees to get their products placed in the best buying positions on any of the aisle shelves?

We suspect that the percentage of people unaware of this advertising would be much higher and the percentage of people unwilling to respond to the advertising much lower than in our survey.

There are two main differences at play between online and in-store shopping:

1 – Supermarkets don’t tell us when a promotional position has been bought

A Google search for an e-commerce query like ‘buy wine’ gives us 4 top of pages ads from wine retailers marked with the green Ad button. And 9 Google shopping ads marked with the ‘sponsored’ text in the top right corner.


While 70% of the page real estate is taken up by paid advertising at least we are told what it is. Supermarkets are under no such obligation to mark their advertising so we can assume that a higher percentage than the 57% in the online survey don’t recognise paid advertising when they see it.

2 – The consumer gets a tangible benefit

You don’t hear many complaints from consumers about supermarkets making money from their advertising practices. So why do a high percentage of people not like search engines making money for placing adverts?

Our theory is that in the supermarkets people unconsciously know they are also benefitting from the arrangement in some way. Either financially, if the promotions are discount based, or personally – for example saving time and effort in searching down the aisle for a relevant product. Most PPC ads are simply not good at picking up on and promoting the benefit to the consumer. They are too generic, untargeted and often look rushed.

So how can online advertisers use this information to their advantage?

It is imperative that the content of your advertising is relevant to the search – carefully targeted by keyword and demographic – and that the benefit is well thought out and clearly stated. Each ad needs time and effort invested in it.

So to look at an example, refining our wine search to ‘top quality wine for sale’ produces the following results:

None of the paid advertising is particularly relevant or enticing. The Rude Wines advert is the only one that mentions the ‘quality’ aspect of the search, but then it goes rather vague so doesn’t merit a click.

A PPC ad could secure a click from this searcher (in this case a 35+ female) by including information on how the wines are selected for quality, a review or grade by an expert wine taster for kudos, a money back guarantee for reassurance and free delivery for click bait. Moreover, the landing page needs to be specifically for this ad and immediately reiterate and expand on the benefits and offers the searcher has just showed an interest in. It also needs to enable the user to connect easily with their social media accounts if they want to and provide positive product reviews.

The organic listings are not much better. The searcher might look at the first listing from the Independent if they had time to actually research the best online wine shops before finding a top quality wine. But it is not what the search was for. The Majestic Wine listing in position 3 is the only listing on the entire page that is relevant to the searcher – if they were only looking for red wine!

Basically, the whole set of results is ripe for improvement. For any more advice on how to create paid search advertising that works please contact the experts at Varn on 01225 439960.