Display Ads Do Have A Future -- We Just Can't See It Yet

Over the last few months there's been much speculation regarding the present and future of online advertising. No one can seem to agree on the direction that online -- specifically online display -- is going. Some think it will be up this year, while many feel it will go down -- but almost everyone agrees that the current formats and iterations of online display are not long-term solutions.

We started with the 468x60 pixel banner ad, which, while it may have had a good run, has been shoved aside over the last five years or so to make place for skyscrapers, leader-boards and "large rectangles" (most commonly in a 300x300 or a 300x250 pixel size). Along the way, we figured out that search and video were the most enticing formats for online advertising. So display has taken something of a backseat in regards to interest levels, while still commanding a majority of the online ad spend. It's inevitable that we'll be fixing this issue soon enough. It's inevitable that we'll work toward a more impactful and widely accepted unit in the coming years.



But what will that unit be?

That's the question plaguing any number of online publishers, especially Yahoo and AOL, who've begun radical management changes in recent months as they look forward aggressively to the future. What type of units will be examined and reviewed in the coming months, and how will they impact the online display landscape? How will the online ad industry compete with the Google model and the video solutions that are dominating the discussion, if not completely dominating online budgeting?

I can't profess to know the answers to those questions, but I do feel the answers come from a re-evaluation of the way that users are focused on the Web and content is delivered to them. Increasingly we see sites that are dynamic and tailored to the user (the beginning stages of the "semantic Web"). Many dollars are being spent against targeting technology and the second or third generations of behavioral targeting, which integrates social graph data and additional points of reference. Yet while these innovations are certainly necessary and will absolutely improve the delivery of creative messages, in what format will these messages be delivered?

My instincts say more full-page units and interstitial efforts will be integrated into the experience. The interstitial unit has been with us for quite some time, but has never been in vogue as much as it has of late. I did an informal poll of family and friends, and more people recall seeing these units in place on their favorite sites recently than in the past. These types of units can be intrusive and annoying unless frequency-capped and managed in a way that reduces exposure. I also feel the leader-board unit is being considered a starting point for larger, over-the-page units that resolve to a leave behind, but without the typically required user-initiated action. The homepage of ESPN has experimented with these ads lately, most prominently with Apple, and I find the ads to be engaging and very impactful. I also see more sites using larger units like the 300x600 that appears on the IGN homepage.

These units are still indicative of a print-esque model, though, and they are reliant on the standard appearance of the Web as a flat, two-dimensional experience. I think the excitement will begin when the Web becomes more three-dimensional in its experience -- glimpses of which can be seen in how some sites offer image slideshows and other points of access via the "coverflow" presentation made famous by iTunes.

As the Web becomes multi-dimensional, users begin to navigate through a customized environment where eyes can move in multiple directions, and advertisements can take on more of a three-dimensional billboard appearance and be inserted into the content itself. I've seen glimpses of these techniques in the mobile space, especially in iPhone applications that are being developed by players like Microsoft. The constant innovation and movement from HTML to Flash and AJAX, as well as other programming languages, leads me to believe that the appearance of the Web will continue to change in the next 10 years, and the advertising component will change with it.

It's an exciting time for the Web, and display is not going to be squashed by search and video. Display will continue to be an important part of the Web -- just not in ways that you would currently imagine.

Do you agree with my point of view? Click through and tell me why or why not on the message boards!

15 comments about "Display Ads Do Have A Future -- We Just Can't See It Yet ".
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  1. Jonathan Mendez from Yieldbot, March 18, 2009 at 10:22 a.m.

    Great post.

    According to eMarketer search spend is poised to double display this year.

    "Once in a while
    you get shown the light
    in the strangest of places
    if you look at it right"

    Look at search and you may be able to see the future of display.

  2. Kathy Sharpe from Resonate Networks, March 18, 2009 at 10:31 a.m.

    I agree with you 100% on this one. Display advertising standardized very quickly and now we are starting to see limits and new possibilities, but its way to early to throw away anything. Thanks for the voice of reason

  3. Brendan Gellman from Starcom Mediavest, March 18, 2009 at 10:44 a.m.

    I think it's safe to say that display isn't going anywhere simply due to their importance to DR advertisers to drive efficient ROI. With that said, the technology behind banners just haven't cut it but the good news that technologies powering display are really starting to evolve with the proliferation of dynamic ads. Utilizing multi-variate testing and serving the winning creative recipes for each placement on the media plan will make a difference. Furthermore, dynamic adserving also allows for actual consumer insights via its reporting. One barrier of entry is sometimes making sure creative agencies see dynamic ad technology as a friend and not a threat. Check out as the leader in this emerging space.

  4. Thomas Kurz from EFP, March 18, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.

    I completely agree with your point of view and I hope that more people involved with digital agencies and interactive publications will evangelize this point of view for the good of the publishing industry.

  5. Palmer Brown from Hearst Television Inc., March 18, 2009 at 11:01 a.m.

    Display v. Search is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Display is advertising. Search is NOT advertising but rather a highly targeted directory service that really serves as 'the perfect yellow pages".

    (I am sure to get crucified for the above comment)

    When a consumer comes into a need they will first go to that which is top of mind. If they do not have any brand recognition they will conduct a search (Google it).

    Display advertising is an excellent vehicle for building brand and should always be a part of the media mix. It is going to continue to evolve in unit size, platform, delivery, etc. but it will not go away.

    I am a GAP and always include search as a part of an overall strategy, however, display is almost always the lead for reaching tomorrow's customers as well as today's while increasing brand share.

    Just sayin'.

  6. Lee Freund from TubeMogul, March 18, 2009 at 11:38 a.m.

    Yes, display has a future and it's glorious. It is widely accepted that display creative side of the business has quite a long way to go. The vast majority of a marketers' resources (time and $$$) are invested in media and web site development. While, relatively speaking, next to nothing is invested in display creative design, development, testing, and optimization. Additionally, very few agencies know how to develop creative work that drives results. Most design on gut feeling rather than Best Practices or historical learning. Typically it's a web site designer who is charged with designing display creative. Unfortunately, the two require very different skill sets, disciplines, and expertise. In my role, I see hundreds of display ads every month. Everyday I see excellent creative concepts miss their opportunity due to poor design structure, usability, and call to action. "Learn More" is not a call to action. Les Wunderman, the grandfather of direct marketing, pioneered a 3 point winning formula over 40 years ago that applies to successful digital marketing today... 1. Listen: to audience and customer 2. Measure: communication must elicit a measurable response 3. Innovate: use the learning on what works for your brand to continuously improve results. Display creative should never be "done". It should be viewed as a hypothesis. What if we reversed the colors? enlarged the font? ...adjusted the navigation? ...made the call to action is more prominent? etc. Look for tools that efficiently power dynamic display ad content to thrive over the next few years. Those that succeed will help to streamline creative production, ad versioning, function, and optimization. This will make it easier to apply Wunderman's 3 key principles to maximize results - whatever "results” may mean to the brand.

    Thank you for the shout out on the innovative Apple PointRoll creative. Look for much more to come.

  7. Jeff Mignon from REVSQUARE / Mignon-Media, March 18, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    It is all about ROI. Advertisers want results. Not blabla. Businesses want customers. We are entering the "show me the money game". A total paradigm shift. Display or not does not really mater.

    I was just writing about it. If you are interested:

  8. Mike Sprouse from Sprouse Marketing Group, March 18, 2009 at 1:29 p.m.

    Hey Cory,
    Thanks for a great topic, as usual. You really do manage to put out relevant topics that draw opinions from all sides so thanks.

    My $.02 - the success or failure of online display advertising has less to do with ad units themselves or the creativity on display within the ad units (now and in the future). And more to do with economics. Everything in online display advertising was ported over from the offline model - everything from pricing (CPM) to how publishers quantify ad views (impressions) to even creating an online CPM "rate card". The moral of the story is that everyone is learning that the economics of the CPM offline model don't work online. In fact, its not even close to an even comparison and aren't in the same stratosphere. That, and the fact that advertisers are realizing that they can now more fully measure the effectiveness of an ad beyond just CPM (whereas in print, you can't) and now have the ability to question like never before exactly how they're spending their ad budgets and the rate they're paying. Its not a black box anymore.

    IMO, advertisers and agencies are as creative as ever with the units out there. Will there be more new and effective ad units in the future? Yes. But its an economic normalizing, not a creative overhaul that's happening.

  9. Mark Naples from WIT Strategy, March 18, 2009 at 3:39 p.m.

    It's funny - there's so much opposition to the more recent display innovations, like In-Text, and at the same time, we can all agree with what Cory says about its limitations. If history is any indication, one silver lining to the slowed economy will be the advent of even more display innovation. Just ask PointRoll. (founded during an even worse economy than today's)

  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 18, 2009 at 6:31 p.m.

    Ads for all media will morph and evolve. On some sites banner ads may still work best; others peek-a-boo overlays and other sites will have other successes or bombs. Creative as well as other marketing and ad investments push the envelopes. If anyone thinks there is just one thing to measure, then delusion will also have to be measured. There are no absolutes except for the absolutely nothings and then who knows. Fairies - pins - you could take this into ad infinitum.

  11. Paul Knegten from Dapper, Inc., March 18, 2009 at 6:35 p.m.

    Great post! I have to agree that the Semantic Web is going to enable ads to behave in a search-meets-display way, which will deliver unmatched relevance and performance. And heck, make the browsing experience a lot better for all of us!

  12. Warren Lee from WHL Consulting, March 18, 2009 at 6:48 p.m.

    Insightful as always Cory. I'm not sure what they call this unit, but it sure works for me. On occasionally you will see an ad in the background around the home page. The graphics jump out at you and there is lots of real estate for both creative and messaging. One personal thought though: It does not matter the size of the ad unit or the creative, if I am not interested in the product, there is no way that I will action an ad. I am all for relevance, so if there needs to be some type of Behavioral Component to ads, so be it. I would rather bemoan unappealing content for a product that I am "in market" for then thousands of beautiful, creative, ads for products that I have never bought and have no intention of ever buying. See you at OMMA Global.

  13. Trevor Wright from DogTime Media, March 23, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    Building the experience rather than mega phone advertising is very important. Display ads with great creatively and intelligently placed with the right frequency can deliver great experience.

    Saw recent demo for Rich Media ads. Intro-mericials, Tranisitional-mericials, overlay on video, logo on video, overlay on photos, Page Pusher, etc.

    Cory references Page Pusher which is a version of expandable 728. Pretty cool.

  14. M. eileen Long from Nature Publishing Group, March 23, 2009 at 3:52 p.m.

    We do need more bold leaders to develop the best advertising opportunities. Here's some organized thinking: There is a need to be nimble along with measureable; advertising is an important component of our content world.

  15. Quinn Regan from Veruta / MyBuys, April 1, 2009 at 6:48 p.m.

    The spam letter reply from Senegal is too funny!! What's even more funny is that it made it to the FeedBack Loop email. Love that automation process!

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