It's no wonder that people have learned to ignore banners. Even when served in the most contextually relevant and targeted environments, most banners struggle to achieve click rates in excess of 0.10%. Even within the demographically information rich environs of Facebook, banner click rates are abysmal. At a recent SES Conference, Sarah Smith, online sales operations manager at Facebook said that the average campaign click-through rates on the social network were as low as 0.05%.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it's not that of the oncoming train. Ad spending on online display advertising is slated to grow. In his outlook for 2010, industry analyst Imran Khan predicts that spend on display banner advertising will increase by 10.5%. But this increase will be driven by a movement away from the plain-vanilla display ads.
Instead, there will be a concerted effort at incorporating banner elements that will help the industry overcome the problem of banner blindness and make this format of online advertising a more relevant and meaningful experience for consumers. Khan identifies two important developments in this regard: greater creativity in banner ad formats and a better integration of mechanisms to capture real-time consumer intent data.
It's already happening.
The Apple takeover on the New York Times page is an excellent example of how a creative ad format along with an innovative media placement can come together to overcome banner blindness. By navigating the website real estate between the leaderboard and skyscraper banners, John Hodgman and the Mac guy were effectively able to communicate the Macintosh value proposition. There was no need for the user to click away from the message. There are several other examples of innovative creative formats; the Pointroll Fat Boy ads that expand to reveal deals from CVS pharmacy and the "Intel's History of Innovation" rollover banner come to mind.
There's another important facet to banner innovation. In their current form, banners are ill-equipped to capture consumer intent data. Typical online banners direct users away from the content they are on to a landing page. There is a large drop off (as high as 99.99%) associated with this process.
The ASPCA used a different approach to combat this drop off. To increase the number of its Facebook fans and Twitter followers, the ASPCA used a cost-per-lead banner. In such, the user fills in personal information within the banner. Upon hitting the submit button, the user information is sent from the publisher to the advertiser on the backend. The user continues to stay on the website. By using a banner that had a built-in mechanism to capture user information, the ASPCA was able to avoid drop off, and grow its Facebook and Twitter members quickly.
There are many other examples of advertisers that are designing banners that are creative and allow users to communicate their intent. Now that's change we can believe in.