Wednesday, August 8, 2007

August 07 - Banner Bashing


There’s been much chatter around the blogoshpere of late about that most humble of advertising formats, the banner ad.

The debate began heating up after respected London ad creative Rob Messeter wrote a thought provoking post entitled ‘Digital and the Emperor’s new clothes’ for the British advertising blog Scamp.

Shooting straight from the hip, Messeter opened his piece with, “I know it's the future and everything, and everyone seems to be wetting themselves with excitement over it (particularly marketing people) but, is it me, or is most online advertising really pony?”

The thing is, he wasn’t just having a go at the ridiculous flashing banners and annoying pop up ads that we all despise. He was questioning the quality of thinking in online advertising as a whole.

Can’t say as I blame him to be honest. I mean, when was the last time you were sharing a drink with friends and one of you asked, “Did you see that great banner ad on such and such a website the other day?” Probably never I’d imagine.

Personally I think banners are one of the great missed opportunities of the advertising world. You hardly ever see a truly great one. When I posed the question why this was on my blog Brand-DNA recently, the first answer I received was this:

“The reason there are no great banner ads is because it's a crap little medium and consumers hate them, and rightly so. The creative opportunity is very, very limited. That's why anyone with talent wants nothing to do with them.”

As you can imagine, the person behind that short sighted and uninformed rant preferred to remain anonymous. Rob Messeter however was more than happy to go on the record with his thoughts.

In his savage critique of a series of award winning banners for a high profile UK brand, Messeter claimed, “If I presented anything so woeful to my Creative Director he'd laugh me out of the room.”

He then went on to say, “I think we all need to get some perspective. Digital is still relatively in its infancy. As time goes on I’m sure we will begin to see more maturity in the work.”

Can’t argue with that logic, although let’s not forget the internet is hardly new enough to still be considered new media any more.

Robin Grant from UK interactive agency CMW also weighed into the debate, by posting Messeter’s piece on the Brand Republic blog, sparking this comment credited to Mark Bower:

“I do think Rob has a point, to be honest. There often doesn't seem to be a great deal of insight behind some of this stuff.” He then went on to add that, “It's good to see the investment in digital continuing. I'm certain that as the market matures we will start to see higher quality (work) emerge.”

Meanwhile back over at the Scamp blog, the comments were starting to mount up, with most of them agreeing with Messeter. One that didn’t, argued that digital advertising should be judged on the audience it has attracted.

Fair enough I suppose, although this kind of argument can often unwittingly backfire. I was working on a banner campaign a little while ago, and the brief included the response rates from the previous campaign – A paltry 0.15%.

That’s 0.15% not 1.5%, which is surely around two thirds of bugger all in real terms. Having said that, if a million people took a look at the web page where the banner ran a very respectable 1,500 people would have clicked on it.

Now 1,500 people expressing interest in a product is not to be sniffed at I suppose, but even so, 0.15% response can hardly be considered a success. If I was a marketer I’d be demanding answers from my agency if their work was pulling these kind of figures.

Perhaps these low response rates are, as Rob Messeter claimed, because most online advertising is pony. Apparently not according to a comment on Scamp from someone calling themselves Flipper.

“More and more clients are seeing how much more effective digital advertising can be over so called ‘traditional’ techniques,” says Flipper. He then goes and undermines his argument by claiming to be, “Very passionate about not wrecking the web with bloody advertising.”

Oops! Not exactly the kind of thinking you’d expect from someone employed to create advertising for the web. And therein, I believe, lies the root of the problem. Most online ads are created by people who are not advertising creatives.

To put this whole debate into perspective, I’ll hand over to yet another anonymous blog commenter: “Banners are annoying and intrusive and represent the old advertising model of interrupting consumers. When was the last time you welcomed seeing one?

It's time to move on from animated print ads, which is what banners are. The internet offers far richer ways of connecting with people. Banner ads = boo!”

Stop by and visit:

Scamp

Robin Grant

Bannerblog

3 comments:

David MacGregor said...

Stan,

the real issue confronting banner ads (as I see it) isn't whether the format works or not. It is about relevance.

In the days before the Internet (B.I?) ads were placed in magazines that were relatively relevant to the audience. fashion ads would go in Vogue, hunting supplies in Fish & Game. The format allowed enough information to be transmitted at a glance for the reader to figure out if the ad was worth noting, reading or ignoring. On the web a banner ad can only ever be a 'come-on'. The risk is that I will click it and be deceived into who-knows-what version of cyber hell. With a magazine ad I can come back to it - it is self contained - or choose to visit the store/advertiser in my own sweet time.

The media buying strategy for online advertising is a little different than tangible media because the risks are lower. Production costs are comparatively low (72dpi costs less than 300dpi) and the numbers for placement are lower (the cost of cutting down trees, making ink, publication and distribution are quite high) so the care taken over relevance is probably a little less. Media buyers can scatter the web with their ads - and feel they need to to reach a wide enough audience. Remember that the web is the ultimate in media fragmentation. Finding relevant, high quality inventory is tough - even now after more than 10 years of commercial web.

All of which left the door open to Google whose AdSense/Adwords programme has been a runaway success. There is no argument about the creative content. There isn't any. Google's ad panels are self service - the site owner or blogger makes their inventory available and Google's code sorts the content by relevance.

All of which reminds me of the Howard Gossage thought:

People don't pay attention to ads - they pay attention to what interests them. (paraphrased).

Look forward to reading your columns.

Digital Sponge said...

There's nothing wrong with banners as a format - imagine them as miniature posters, with a bit of extra movement. If clients and agencies took them more seriously, then maybe the standard would go up. However, at the moment, banners are added to a campaign last, when the client's purse is empty, used as a dumping ground for loads of stray tactical messages and made on such ridiculously low budgets that often the only option is repurposing existing assets. Give banners some love, and maybe they'll love you back.

Expo rollup banners said...

The media buying strategy for online advertising is a little different than tangible media because the risks are lower. Production costs are comparatively low (72dpi costs less than 300dpi) and the numbers for placement are lower (the cost of cutting down trees, making ink, publication and distribution are quite high) so the care taken over relevance is probably a little less. Media buyers can scatter the web with their ads - and feel they need to to reach a wide enough audience. Remember that the web is the ultimate in media fragmentation. Finding relevant, high quality inventory is tough - even now after more than 10 years of commercial web.