Time To Rethink The Banner?

I have been raising the banner blindness flag for several months now. Last month, we launched a survey to find out just how serious the problem is. Only 14% of people surveyed remembered the company or product in the last ad they viewed online, and a mere 2.8% thought the ad was relevant to them.

A full 50% of the respondents who were surveyed never click on ads at all, and 35% click less than 5 ads per month. To add insult to injury, the average user in the U.S. sees 1,407 ads per month (based on data compiled from comScore’s “2012 Digital in Focus” report)!

With all the targeting and optimization technologies at our disposal, why can’t we get it right? Surely we can’t be satisfied with CTRs below .1%. It’s bad enough that banner blindness plagues our industry, but have we become blind to the issue? Is optimizing against a .1% CTR the virtual equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs?

It’s time to rethink the conventional banner once and for all. With such dismal recall and click rates, what options do we have?



Think beyond creative

Changing creative standards time and again is not enough, no matter how rich the media is. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Over the years, we have gone from static banners to animated GIFs, to rich media and high-quality video -- and none have moved the engagement needle significantly. Creative isn’t the issue. We have to adjust other levers if we want to see any substantial change to CTRs and engagement rates. We have to start thinking differently about the importance of relevance and placement.

Relevance matters most

No matter how beautiful an ad is -- how interactive and cool -- if it’s not relevant to the consumer in the moment, it’s not going to engage them. Intent is everything. You could be targeting the right demographic in the right DMA at the right time of year -- and the audience buy itself could be spot-on -- but if the intent isn’t targeted in real-time, relevance is lost.

Targeting must go beyond audience and deeper into context in order to reach customers while they’re in a buying frame of mind. Think about search engine marketing, which captures a user’s search query and surfaces ads that are specific to that query. I saw an ad for Google recently that read: “You know who wants a haircut? People looking for a haircut.” Display advertising can learn something from this kind of intent targeting. The goal is to get so granular with our targeting that advertising becomes helpful rather than irrelevant and irritating.

Just try to look natural

Can we agree once and for all that the “golden triangle” is over? Why do we insist on putting ads along the top and down the right margin? It’s not effective. This may be one of the biggest drivers behind the native advertising movement.

Native advertising allows publishers to create advertising unique to their site or platform, so that ads fit seamlessly into the page. The ads often look like publisher content, although the best practice is to clearly identify them as ads. Examples of this include Sponsored Tweets, Sponsored Posts on Facebook and Google AdWords. Publishers like Slate, The Cheezburger Network, Funny or Die and Salon are offering native options, which tend to be unobtrusive and often helpful -- or at least, entertaining or intriguing.

This is where advertiser and publisher heads should be, even if they can’t technically go native. Not everyone has resources to create their own platform, but it’s the right path -- ads that don’t attempt to disrupt, but fit naturally into the flow of the user experience.

Cue the bugle

It may be premature to call the banner dead, but we have to stop using the same tired methods to revive it. No amount of glitter and glitz can make it work -- we need to think beyond appearance at the root causes of banner blindness. If we can make display smart and relevant enough to be worth seeing, we can end the problem once and for all.

1 comment about "Time To Rethink The Banner?".
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  1. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, May 11, 2013 at 3:29 p.m.

    Excellent post David. I agree that optimizing for 0.17% CTR is a marketing cul-de-sac. But I see at least two consistent barriers to the changes that you're calling for and which we both agree are ultimately going to have to happen to make online display ads relevant.

    Your suggestions are akin to advertorials, right? Which I'm afraid will elicit prejudiced groans from both creatives and editors. Editors who still want to protect the church and state ideal, and agency creatives who don't want to be bound to editorial formats and restrictions.

    In ad agencies, where the majority of high-profile banners are produced, creative is still king. Agency attention to banners has been an ongoing struggle in engaging creatives who find banner formats too restrictive. I once asked Rich Silverstein when his agency started to take banners seriously as a creative medium; his response, "when we saw agencies [we considered peers] winning One Show awards for them."

    So while I agree on the need, the barriers to change are still significant. Come to think of it, I have more to say, so I'm going to write *my own* post! Thanks for sparking so much mental activity David!

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