Big Banner Banter

By now you’ve heard that the Internet Advertising Bureau has come up with new standards for bigger banners. At first glance, establishing guidelines for seven new ad units, two vertical units, and five large rectangular units seems like a major accomplishment on the IAB’s part. According to the announcement, IAB hoped that this new set of guidelines would “rejuvenate” the online advertising industry, but many saw this as a clear case of “too little, too late.”

To everyone’s surprise (yes, I am being sarcastic here), a few weeks after the original release, the IAB announced that according to their own survey, advertising industry decision-makers “overwhelmingly” support the guidelines. As if the obvious conflict of interest wasn’t enough, the results of the survey were based on responses of just 78 participants. The IAB said that an “almost unanimous majority” of those surveyed (93 percent or 73 people) view the new units as “more effective than previous guidelines.”

My reactions were, at best, critical. First, Jupiter Media Metrix said that the number of unique online ads increased by nearly 70 percent during Q4 of 2000 but warned that their return on investment (ROI) is still unproven. They plainly said, “bigger ads don’t necessarily mean better results for advertisers.” Second, Jupiter Media Metrix said that although 25 percent of ad-supported websites host large online banner ads, less than 5 percent run formats that comply with new standards. Third, never before has the IAB been criticized by the online ad industry as much as with these “new bigger banner” specs. Most saw the guidelines as a pathetic attempt to uphold the appearance of “the industry’s leading online association,” when in fact the organization has done nothing of note to “lead” the industry or to counter the slump of the last several months. Needless to say, the validity of this new survey seemed to be just a tad iffy.

So I asked our online readers for help, and judging by the number of replies, certainly hit a nerve. Some took my plea to PLEASE tell me the real pros and cons of using larger ad formats as rhetorical. Fortunately, I did receive several dozen really helpful responses. Here’s a synopsis:

THE PLUSES: (a) Larger formats give advertisers a bigger canvas upon which to paint a picture; (b) Bigger banners are relatively new and are getting honeymoon attention both with advertisers and web users who are showering them with at least triple the click-throughs of regular banners; (c) Sites are generally willing to negotiate the price, both to “test” performance and to make a sale, any sale.

THE MINUSES: (a) Bigger banners take up more space, so it becomes more difficult to read editorial, which is why visitors come to a website in the first place; (b) Skyscrapers are generally placed on the right side of most screens, thus browser size and screen display inconsistencies don’t guarantee that every web surfer sees the right edge of the page; (c) Bigger banners cost twice as much as regular banners on average, both to produce and to place. And, most third-party ad servers cannot implement unique size tags yet, thus the new units are not available on all websites.

All that said, there is something more important than the pros and cons of bigger ads. Size doesn’t matter if the ads aren’t relevant, creative, and are extending an offer that’s easy to ignore. What matters: better marketing, smarter targeting and innovative creative ideas.

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