- Display Advertising, Relic of the Past that Will Soon Die Out?
- January 31st, 2009
Nobody likes banner ads. Have you ever heard any one speak positively about them? I think it's very interesting that even industry insiders openly talk about their contempt for banner ads. The same insiders whose salaries are in part paid by them. While Internet display advertising may have achieved sales larger than out-of-home advertising it still has a long way to go to achieve that same level of mind share.
Display advertising as it stands now is almost a complete failure. Consumers hate them, the performance is dismal, and their emotional impact (what really makes a TV commercial powerful) is all but negligible. However the inventory continues to rise, with the extreme popularity of social networks and on line media in general. What little innovation that has happened in this area has all been confined to data mining and improved targeting. But the actual content, improving the marketer's ability to connect with people in meaningful ways has been all but forgotten.
The Industry Needs to Re-invent Display
Advertising can be great. Sometimes it even succeeds at crossing over to become a cultural icon. There are countless examples of simple advertisements transcending their humble beginnings. Coke imagery and iconography, The Michelin Man, or the Budweiser Clydesdales are good examples. I myself have found memories of Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam. But in order for that to happen through display ads an industry wide shift needs to occur. Or the format is in real danger. I believe that display ads have huge potential to influence and persuade. It just has yet to be unlocekd. While there has been some very visionary attempts to do great things with them, rich media platform providers are one example and the creative use of streaming video is another. But these initiatives have been ad-hoc and scattered at best. What follows is collection of ideas how about to improve the format.
Too Many Formats and Too Much Complexity
There are just too many sizes and media formats for agencies to produce them efficiently. The standard IAB sizes which were created almost 10 years ago include a hodge-podge of strange and irregular sizes like: 728x90, 300x250, 120x600, and 160x600 plus a few other. This alone is difficult enough to manage, but each website has it's own k-size requirements on top of these physical size restrictions. Which can double the volume of creative one needs to deliver for a single campaign. Next add in the different rich media formats, like streaming video or expandable features and you have a bewildering amount of complexity, which takes the focus off what advertising really is about – the content.
An effort to develop a more streamlined number of formats and standardize most of the differences between sites would go a long way towards fixing most of this. For example the 300x250 box ad in test after test will consistently out-perform the other sizes. Why don't we just eliminate most of the other sizes? The advantages of this would be huge. Plus this one size is the only one that can run a standard video stream. The other sizes require the video to be squished down too much in order for it to fit.
Bookmarks for Banners
Since you can't bookmark a banner ad or save it in anyway, it's potential to influence in the same way that print ads can is extremely diminished. In the off chance that I see a print add for something that I like, I can show it other to people, I can take it with me to the shop, or even hang it up on the wall. The banner ad format doesn't allow for any of this interaction. So when I see a banner ad for something I like, I am forced to act immediately or just ignore it. Being able to save it and act on it later would radically change the way banner ads work.
A simple system that would let people bookmark and save ads would change everything about how marketers design campaigns. It would encourage creative thinking beyond finding more and more annoying ways to grab attention. Since you now would want to create something that people would go back to and enjoy.
Encourage Creativity and Innovation
This has clearly been lacking in the space for some time. The format's reputation is so poor that many creatives are reluctant to even admit that they do this type of work. Besides streaming video there has been very little innovation in the area. With the success of ad words and Facebook's innovations with classified ad targeting one might be lead to believe that the banner ad format is destined to stagnant and decline - only to suffer a slow death in the next 10 years. This perhaps still might be the case, if the large networks of sites that do actually make a living from display ads allow the format to languish and don't do anything to breath new life into it.
The large networks need to foster more innovation and creativity in the space. They could for example hold creative competitions to encourage developers to come up with interesting ways to do more with the format, and give out prizes like Facebook and Google have done. One idea that came up during a brainstorm was to stream TV shows through the format, as we wanted to provide content that people actually wanted in addition to the advertisement. Doing something like that certainly would go a long way in at least improving the formats reputation.
The Bottom Line
The formats own champions have simply done a poor job of promoting it and fostering it's reputation. At the last Yahoo! sponsored advertising conference I went to, I found it interesting that Yahoo! allowed team after team to present just TV commercials. A format which to my knowledge, appears in only a few places on Yahoo! such as their video player. Not one team presented a banner ad. As I sat there I thought to myself, “If even Yahoo! isn't proud of this format then perhaps it's just an relic of the past that will soon die out. But to be replaced by what?" was the question I just kept mulling over.