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11/25/2008 Online Banners – Dead Like in the Holy Grail


This week’s news has trumpeted the death (finally!) of the online banner. Adweek has blasted this out as their top story in their online newsletters "Is the End Near for Display Ads." It’s like listening to the apocalyptic ‘messengers’ on a corner of Broadway (or maybe Madison). Actually, it’s right out of one of my favorites scenes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s most interesting, though, to read the first line of the article.

“Digital media buyers have been trying to kill the banner ad for years.”

Digital media buyers? Well, I can understand why they’re trying to kill banners. It’s because it’s a whole lot more work for them than buying other media. Compared with insertion orders on broadcast TV or newspapers, or media planning with a set number of known quantities, buying digital media is a pain in the butt. I’ve worked with great traditional media buyers who shudder and hide under their desks when faced with an online buy.

Just recently I’ve had conversations with a group at one of the largest businesses in the U.S. who’s using the largest media agency in the world to place their online banners. It’s amazing the amount of mistakes they’ve made in getting the right banners running on the right sites at the right time. Basic stuff, actually. But outside of business as usual apparently.

Media buyers aside, content is the biggest problem with online banners, not the medium itself. Too many banners are simply animated billboards. And no one connects with small space billboards. I’ve written about this in a previous blog entry a few weeks ago.

The opportunity right now is to re-energize this medium with the creativity and technology it deserves. The Adweek article laments the lack of results for online banners compared with other online (but not offline) media. Maybe, but I’ve developed banner campaigns that had click through rates approaching 1% and interaction rates near 20%. Those are great engagement metrics however you slice them.

In one campaign, for Unicel, we developed a rich media banner that people spent an average of 30 seconds playing in. That’s on average and that’s time spent engaging not just watching. More importantly, that one campaign helped drive sales more than any other online campaign, search included.

Look too at how Apple is using the banner space. They’re using the medium to tell stories in a great way, taking advantage of the inherent technology. Apple seems to be best at telling stories in their 30 second spots and is doing the same thing with the online banner.

AppleAd

I think one of the problems with banners is that they’re born out of advertising creatives who simply translate an offline (often print) campaign to the banner. It’s already stuck and boring before any interactive work begins. The only thing to do is to animate it.

Online banners will reach its potential when we (digital marketers, ad agencies, businesses) stop looking at them as simple extensions of existing work but when we instead take advantage of the technology to engage users in this space. We need to apply the same interactive creativity that separates great Web sites from static ones. We need to use this space to tell stories in a new way instead of replicating old ways.

I'm not the only one going down this path. As my econ professor always said "Look at the market." This week we saw that Theorem, a company specializing in reporting, online ad and search just purchased rich media creative agency Webpencil.

Banners are down right now, but not quite dead. Like some stocks I’m looking at, I think they are a "buy."

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