20 Years Old, The Banner Will Go 4-D

Oh, my, how far we’ve come.  It’s 2014, and the humble little ad banner that drives so much of Internet advertising is 20 years old.  Can you believe it?

I remember the first ad banner I paid for, way back in 1995, for Discovery Channel.  And the very first banner was actually bought in 1994, involving such folks as Rick Boyce, Doug Weaver and Steven Comfort -- three people still adding value to the industry today.  The copy was simple, and the premise even simpler: Click here and visit the site of a sponsor.

Today that simple little 468x60 piece of code has morphed into an entire industry of technology and applications spanning billions of people and dollars.  Banner ads are bigger and more engaging (regardless of the fact that click-through numbers are far below what they used to be), and the industry that has sprung up around them is responsible for jobs and economic growth rivaling that of the industrial revolution.  A small idea has grown and become something almost no one ever truly expected.



Two years ago I put together a book that helped surface the stories of some of the people responsible for this business, along with the many landmark initiatives they were a part of.  What I learned was simple: with vision, passion and ambition, you can achieve almost anything.  This entire business runs on those three elements, along with my three favorite elements: luck, talent and timing.  If you have a vision and ambition to succeed along with a passion for success, than you can make your own luck, further your talent and influence your timing.  Twenty years into this business, that formula continues to prove successful. 

So what will happen to the banner in the next 20 years?  Well, things are absolutely going to change.  I foresee the banner becoming a more four-dimensional unit as Web pages become more four-dimensional too.  The experience of the Web is still very two-dimensional, but that is inevitably going to change. 

What I mean by four-dimensional is the combination of content and audience with device and location.  The banner and content around it today are still either based on context or the audience viewing it.  Location has been considered but rarely integrated into the actual format, and device has largely been ignored or bypassed due to responsive design elements.    We’ve been great at context and audience for a few years now, but location and device will enable significantly higher performance as the next couple of years continue to see the growth of mobile.  Last year was a tipping point for mobile, and it’s only going to get more deeply intertwined in all aspects of the business. 

Of course this leaves the creative format itself open to discussion -- and that’s where I think location and device become the most important.  Why can’t we see different-sized units on different types of devices, based on the relevant proximity to a potential decision-making situation?  For example, can a large retailer push out a full-page mobile ad for users engaging on an app in-store?  That takeover would be far more engaging and welcome vs. a standard mobile banner, which has rarely proven to be an influential unit. 

I’m sure people far smarter than I are working on these ideas right now, which leaves me optimistic and excited about where things are headed.  This industry is continuing to grow, and I’m lucky enough to be a part of it -- and so are you.

Happy birthday, little ole’ ad banner -- can’t wait to see what the next 20 years have in store for you!

2 comments about "20 Years Old, The Banner Will Go 4-D".
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  1. Ken Anderson from, February 26, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.

    I remember when a small internet start-up asked me if I wanted to list our line of sunglasses on their website. They were trying to grow an online sales site and felt good brand name sunglasses would work. I did, because they offered 1 year at no cost...after 1 year, we dropped out, had only sold 3 pairs...that company was how the Internet of Things has changed...

  2. Christopher Sanders from The Ingredients Group, February 26, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.

    Glad you have been one of the custodians raising our "banner babies", Cory. Thanks for the article. However, maybe we should be thinking "5D" (its better than 4) . If we get the first 4 right (content, audience, location and device), then we should really think about "Position". Joe Marchese made a really good point (in Online Spin a couple weeks ago) about why TV still works and is really not threatened by digital banner (or even most video) ads: its 100% of the screen when it runs. Banner ad inventory is doubling every year thanks to ridiculous positioning, fraud and sites that should not have banners on them for sale (and why everyone thinks pricing, despite great tech behind it, is a race to the bottom financially). Even if banners are targeted well, it won't matter if the position on the page is poor or the site is not well suited for ads (i.e. user context). Facebook for instance is not investing any more money into the "right rail" ("ad Ghetto") and as mobile dominates will be less and less significant to their revenue. With all the attention and technology paid to "4D" it would be nice if the publishers thought about positioning and quality of ads more too. Perhaps this is more "atomic" or "native" advertising but if it is, then its probably not a banner either. I guess our "babies" will grow up to be entirely different creatures for sure!

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