Banner Advertising… On Death And Dying

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Do you know anyone who clicks on banner ads?

Somebody must be. Media companies are still praying that banner ads will save their print business. Online ad networks keep popping up offering advertisers a multitude of Websites willing to run whatever they throw at them for a very competitive CPM (cost per mille-thousand) price. Some will even take banner ads on a CPA (cost per action) basis – meaning, if someone doesn’t click on the banner and get the action they desired (buy, give information, etc…) the advertiser does not pay.

How do we move beyond banner advertising?

Everything evolves. Two main areas of evolution for the banner ad are:

1. Rich Media – these are the banners that have cool video-like features. The one that expand (but in a cool way). The ones you can play games in.

2. Behavioural Targeting – banners that are specifically targeted to consumers based off of previous Websites they’ve visited, preferences, other ads they’ve clicked on, etc…

Are these going to win the online advertising wars?

I don’t think so.

I do think that they will perform better. They can’t perform worse (industry average click-through for display advertising is at around 0.05%), but they are simply putting "lipstick on a pig" as the saying goes. To really evolve the banner ad is, simply, too much hard work. It would force ad networks to change how they operate and it would force website owners to have to adjust their websites – most of which have enough trouble managing their content.

Maybe it’s all in the creative?

This could well be the most pragmatic reason. After all, Google busted the advertising industry open by using two-fistful of words for their ads (AdWords), some context and little else. Twitter is all a tweet with messages that make people take action, and all they’ve got is 140 characters to sell an idea (I know that the content on Twitter is not advertising, but you get the idea). Shouldn’t the industry standard sizes (with the addition of Rich Media) be enough to create an even more compelling message?

Maybe it’s all branding?

Marketers tend to forget that the big promise of online advertising was that we could tell you – exactly – how many impressions were served, who clicked on the ads and who acted. A real model with real metrics and real results. When the results started dropping – after people started realizing that they weren’t just cool boxes with shiny objects in them but advertising – they stopped clicking (for the record, I know that some ads do well better than the industry standard of 0.05% click-through) and then the reality sunk in.

Advertisers are smart. Once those metrics were no longer living up to the promise, we started marketing a new mantra, "it’s a great branding tool." Branding measurement is a tough analytic to establish, and with a huge percentage of the population online, it seemed like the right path to go down. The problem is, banner advertising is now relegated to the traditional media channel – nothing more and nothing less than the same accountability as television, radio, print and out-of-home delivers.

Did we learn too much?

Maybe seeing the real metrics at the onset and how they dropped off after consumer fatigue scared us to the point of reverting back to the branding message? Maybe the dot com bust made the numbers look small and took away from the channel as a media play? It doesn’t really matter now.

Believe it or not, I believe in banner advertising.

People are affected by it when it’s done properly. And that’s the key: we have to make banner advertising great. Not better. Not good. Great. It’s going to take some creative minds and it’s going to take some gutsy advertisers and ad network operators to make a serious run at it.

What do you think it will take to make banner advertising great? 


  1. Internet users are so savvy that anything that looks like an ad doesn’t get a second look. First it was pop ups, then banner ads, now rich media ads are next in line to be ignored (though the latter are slightly more invasive, and thus annoying).

  2. I agree – I think that banner creative done properly can be very effective. One great example is the recent Apple creative – where they took 2 very recognizable characters and had them do something that was out of the box – actually climb out of one creative unit into the other. Entertaining, engaging, and despite having had to revamp most homepages to make it work, not entirely irritating to the consumer. Creativity is key – and working with publishers to make it work within their parameters is important as well.

  3. Mitch, this post couldn’t have resonated with my any stronger. I don’t believe in “banner ads� but I do believe that display ad real-estate can be injected with rich, meaningful & relevant branded content that can engage a person to act.
    Not only do I not know anyone who clicks on banners (and I often ask the question) but haven’t we been conditioned not to even notice them? To subconsciously filter them out? (or anything that resembles a banner for that matter).
    I’m optimistic about what rich media display ads can evolve into – as content delivery vehicles (I suppose almost like widgets) that share relevant and useful branded content from the given landing website in context to what a person’s intent is on the ad’s placed website. Tied to search, this could be a powerful (and contextual) way to serve these kinds of content-rich display ads and compel someone to interact and click.

  4. I agree with Mike Prolux. Relevance is the key. What’s the point in placing ads for lawnmowers on an anime-fan site? All ads need to be relevant to the market that will be viewing the site on which they’re placed.
    An even better way to place an ad is to make it part of the content. In so-doing a tacit endorsement on the part of the site is created and that means I’m more likely to follow a hyperlink in a blog post than click a banner ad.
    That said, it’s a fine line to walk. Too many of those links leading to sites that have no relevance to my interests (as defined by by interest in the post on the original site) and I’ll discontinue using the site altogether.

  5. Always wondered who is clicking on banners and adds.
    Maybe the un-educated un-experienced Internet surfers? Not exactly the people you want to get onto your website.
    Natural Born Clickers
    The time of Internet push marketing (adds and e-mails) is over, time for pull marketing where the interested person discovers himself the alternative solutions to his problem. This we have to thank Google for.
    Just ask yourself: if you need something you Google and select one or two out of the results given.

  6. Hey Mitch,
    Further to my tweet last night (“One thing is universal: everyone wants/expects a deal. No deal = no click!”) which was what I observed after sitting through 2 focus groups on mobile media advertising, I should also add that participants resoundingly said they would click on an ad if they knew they would get relevant, timely, and trustworthy information (or entertainment) from a brand they already know and like. Basically there has to be some perceived value for the audience, or they’ll just ignore it. Someone even referred to those annoying blinking banner ads as SPAM!
    So maybe advertisers and marketers just need to go back to school and re-learn the purpose that ads serve for their intended audience: to inform potential customers of new products they might be interested in, or of new ways they might access their services. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it shouldn’t be intrusive. It just needs to be relevant and provide something of value to the audience. Otherwise, it is just spam.

  7. As with all web content, the advert has to add some sort of value to the users experience. If publishers work to develop their advertising spaces into relevant sources of information for site visitors then the click throughs will go up. (Selective content matched advertising) Perhaps a ‘you might also be interested in’ or people who liked this article found the following company interesting… Ok maybe a bit lame but along those lines.
    It works well for Amazon and I love it. I go to Amazon to find new artists that I might like. If they had another section for some websites that might interest you I’d take a look!

  8. As someone who makes a living in the vertical ad network world, it’s becoming clear that we’ll need to bridge the gap between creative, publishers, and advertisers. Most of our clients can’t afford $5000 rich media ads (although full disclosure we’ve done some cool templated rich media ads via Twist Image in the past which can cut down cost). Publishers have to re-brand their sites and learn to understand how advertisers work. This means we’ll have to teach them (specifically independent publishers). Advertisers need to understand that quantity should never trump quality creative. Major advertisers don’t seem to need any help, they have their ducks in row but are more controlling of the creative process.
    At the end of the day there are only a handful of major players in the marketeering world. They have to change in order to bring reform to the niche segments (such as the one that I operate within). Although since this disconnect is growing, we have taken it upon ourselves to mobilize our publishers and clients to take their marketing to the next level. Unfortunately this makes us less of an honest broker and more of a pseudo-network / agency. While this mashup is interesting it’s not what ad networks are supposed to do in my opinion. That being said if we can make the new model work then maybe we can lift the quality of advertising in our community. It has to start somewhere.
    Would love to chat with anyone else running a vertical ad network to discuss this as well.

  9. The reports of the death of the banner ad are greatly exaggerated.
    As a creative canvass, rich media banner advertising presents a of opportunities to communicate. Marketers and agencies just need to get better at developing interesting and appropriate executions. That’s all.
    Despite what people claim about ignoring banner ads, the measured results speak for themselves. I’ve done rich media banner campaigns that have exceeded benchmarks for engagement rates by multiples.
    We’ll see what impact IE8 and Google Chrome has on all this in the future (you can never say never in this business), but I’ve been quite pleased with most of what I’ve seen from the behavioural targeting technology offered by the Canadian portals that I’ve used.
    It’s like any marketing tool. It’s not right for everything, but it has it’s place. Done creatively, I think banner ads can bring some very positive results for brands.

  10. Mike and everyone that added on to his comment are right. It’s about taking the real estate of display ads and making them into something meaningful. This could really engaging content that a brand offers…or it could be a Brand Utility like what Nike+ is doing. Or it could be Social Media such as sharing real time consumer testimonials. Banner Ads have been treated like simple billboards for way too long and us marketers have thrown way too much money at them. It is time we start making them meaninful and actionable for people out there.

  11. The next step is to convert advertising real estate from a display spot to an opportunity to include branded useful services or information. Once the advertising content is providing a useful service or giving useful information people will buy in more. One of the problems I see is at the creative level, as soon as we start to move past display and into anything more complicated there is a large drop off in finding companies who are able to go the next step. Some of the rich media offerings are getting quite good, useful services such as buying guides can be very useful if the targeting has been done right and you have the right demo seeing the creative.

  12. Agree with most of what has been said — in particular the move to providing more value in exchange for attention (the ‘widget’ model, if you will).
    As far as metrics are concerned, online branding *does* need to be quantifiable, just as DR is, but we need better metrics and better purchase models. IMO, CPC and CPA don’t account for some of the value provided by display. While CPE might be better, it’s not ideal either (fuzzy inconsistent characteristics of engagement).
    I’ve blogged a little bit about this on the Bloom blog, link love:

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