Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 10, 2008 9:36 PM

Banner Advertising... On Death And Dying

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? 

By Mitch Joel