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!”

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Robin Grant


July 07 - Adland Exposed

For all their talk about the merits of digital as a communications channel, very few advertising agencies have actually taken the step of setting up their own blog. Which is probably not surprising given the cut-throat nature of new business and agency client relationships.

A great example of an agency blog is the wonderful Welcome To Optimism, by Wieden & Kennedy, London. W&K is regarded as one of London’s most progressive agencies and their work for Honda such as Cog and The Impossible Dream appears regularly on our TV screens here in Australia.

There are very few secrets at W&K London, at least it seems that way if you’re a regular reader of their blog. They post about almost everything, from their ever smiling new receptionist to the accounts they’re pitching for.

Of course not everyone is happy about this openness, and there was a lot of talk in the advertising trade press recently, after the agency blogged about its involvement with the global Nokia pitch.

They posted several photos taken at the pitch briefing at Nokia HQ in Finland on their blog, in a piece they called ‘Visit to Nokialand’. As well as the W&K staffers involved in the pitch, key people from competing agencies were also featured in the snapshots.

When quizzed on the matter W&K MD, Neil Christie, said, “I hope we haven't breached any confidentiality agreements.” He then cheekily added, “Not every client likes you using your cameraphone in meetings, but that isn't an issue for Nokia.”

‘Visit to Nokialand’ received plenty of warm praise in the blogosphere, with well known British strategy planner, Charles Frith, describing it as a “Terrific piece of blogging. Probably seminal for the ad business.”

I suspect one of the other agencies participating in the pitch may have been responsible for feeding this story to the media, not Nokia, as the agency has posted other Nokia related posts since.

In fact they recently revealed on their blog that they had made it to the final three in the pitch, and capitalised on this with a cheeky plug for the photo quality of the Nokia’s just released N95 mobile.

Here in Australia, setting up a blog played a key part in the Sydney office of Saatchi & Saatchi winning the advertising account of job site Seek, which is based in Melbourne.

Following their initial face to face meeting at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, the agency commissioned a limited access blog, to enable them to stay in touch with the folks at Seek and vice versa.

Research, concepts and stats were all posted onto the blog by the agency, as well as videos of interviews. Getting into the collaborative spirit, Seek also contributed feedback, research and comments to the blog.

Suffice to say Seek awarded their account to Saatchis. And the whole process was covered, albeit not in great detail, on Diablogue, the personal blog of the Saatchi Sydney Digital Creative Director, Sean Gannan.

“From such a simple seed grew an exceptional and unique experience,” blogged Gannan. “ A true, two-way participatory conversation between us and our prospective client.”

Saving the best till last, Gannan then went on to add, “And in case you didn't gather already, we also won the business.”

Someone else from Saatchi & Saatchi who’s also started blogging recently is New Zealand born Worldwide CEO, Kevin Roberts. As you’d expect from the man behind the innovative branding idea Lovemarks, Kevin’s blog makes for an interesting read.

Obviously there’s no shortage of Saatchi related material, but what makes Kevin’s blog so worthwhile are his posts on the things that he’s passionate about, like music, movies and New Zealand, where he lives and works for a large part of the year.

He recently posted on the launch of Monocle, the intriguing new magazine from Tyler Brûlé, the man behind Wallpaper*. Kevin wonders, “When people are going to stop predicting the death of print magazines and get inspired by their transformation?”

Monocle is described by Brûlé as, “A briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design”. Which, according to Kevin, sounds a lot like The Economist, but apparently looks and feels nothing like it.

Rather than just drool over Brûlé’s work, he also takes him to task, especially over the magazine’s cover. “They feel a little self-conscious,” says Kevin. Almost as if they’re “Determined not to attract or entice us.”

What I really love about Kevin Robert’s blog though, is the way a Worldwide CEO is able open up and show the world that they’re as ordinary as the rest of us. His post about bidding on a painting at Christie’s New York has a childlike innocence that can probably best be described as Warholesque.

Which makes for a refreshing change from the usual corporate speak we’ve come to expect from large, impersonal company websites. And may well be playing a key part in helping Saatchis build and maintain strong relationships with its clients.

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W&K London


Kevin Roberts