Banish The Banner Ad? Reflections On The Oldest Creative Format in Digital Advertising

Banish The Banner Ad? Reflections On The Oldest Creative Format in Digital Advertising

Farhad Manjoo writes a hit piece against the banner ad in The New York Times today saying that banner ads “have ruined the appearance and usability of the web, covering every available pixel of every page with clunky bits of sponsorship.”

If this seems overly harsh, it is. Manjoo doesn’t recognize the capabilities and limitations of the medium in his piece. Banner ads can and do drive message recall – but a banner ad campaign is not a strategy unto itself. You can’t convey a compelling narrative in just 10-15 seconds of animation at the edge of a page, or introduce a wholly new concept to your audience, but what you can do is reinforce and continuously drive home a single point, quote, or fact.

As much as we may disagree with the tone of Manjoo’s piece, however, it is a good reminder for every advertising agency that banner ads do not have to be boring. While targeting and measurement has evolved at a breakneck pace over the last few years, the creative execution has remained relatively stagnant. For example, five years ago, Apple launched one of the best digital ad campaigns of all time – all within banner ads. See it here. You will probably remember the campaign well. But if that campaign were launched today, it would still be hailed as an exciting creative concept because of how slow the change has been on the banner ad creative front. That is not true of any other 5-year-old digital offering and yet it is a major reason why the banner ad medium is so disparaged because it has been slow to evolve in a meaningful way beyond the targeting behind it.

Furthermore, if our multibillion dollar advertising industry continues to solely focus on delivering the most precisely targeted banner ad, we have failed as marketers and technologists. The challenge within the evolution of native content or social media ads is that more interesting formats typically lack the targeting granularity of banner ads. For example, you can only buy a nationally sponsored SnapChat ad or Instagram promotion. While those may be more exciting to engage with, they are also wildly un-targeted.

The future of banner advertising is about much more than creating a new format to replace the existing options. It is about setting a new standard for attention and effectiveness. (This is not just true for the web, but for TV as well.)  Over the past year, the industry has become more accountable by ensuring online ads are seen by actual people. But the next step is to focus on answering the tough question: what impact did my ad actually have on a business outcome?

Marketers are faced with a choice of delivering the message on a more compelling medium with significant waste or precisely targeting their message in a passive banner ad that is seen by a smaller audience. For new and more engaging formats to wrestle marketing dollars away from the display advertising industry, publishers and platforms will need to focus on building a backend that will allow their ads to be delivered with the same precise targeting as banners.

Here at Bully Pulpit Interactive, where we live and breathe online advertising everyday, we see this discussion as an opportunity to think about what the ad industry should be doing to evolve by way of ad formats, tracking and measurement. There is a new ecosystem forming around online ad effectiveness and accountability, but also around the context of advertising messages on the web. One of our major conclusions from this article is that we need to stop looking at web metrics to define success, but rather look at how those metrics translate into the real world and then we can decide if the banner ad really needs to be abandoned once and for all.