The Banner: An Easy Target

Posted by Julia Casale-Amorim

A personally bothersome topic that I encounter surprisingly often is the notion that consumers largely ignore the banner advertisements that appear on the websites they visit. Really? Are we purporting that something that occupies a significant portion of a user’s screen or that is embedded within the content being consumed isn’t seen? Doesn’t register? Amounts to insignificant branding value?

Are there cases where this statement is factually correct? Yes, absolutely. But such cases are more often the exception than the norm. Nonetheless, they certainly make it easy for one to pick on the banner. Consider the following examples:

  1. Below-the-fold banners: these ads are rarely ever seen and therefore offer little to no advertising value.  
  2. A gallery of photos: small banners placed alongside a collection of large colourful photos represent wasted exposure. Users are so focused on scrolling through the gallery that the second or two of potential ad exposure is often lost on engagement with the “next” button.

Occurrences like this can skew studies and, as we have all seen, can greatly influence industry opinion of the banner. To me, the above examples are better cases for banner misuse than they are cases against banner performance. These examples do not inevitably indicate a failure in the medium (or the message for that matter), but in the method. And, let’s not forget that the misapplication of any advertising medium can result in a similar outcome (surely McDonald’s would not promote the launch of a new product in the classifieds section of a magazine, but that is not to say that print is an ineffective medium). 

So, who are the enablers of this misconception? Partly to blame are those publishers who allow ads to be delivered to poor performing locations on their sites. Equally guilty are advertisers who fail to screen their buys for such undesirable placements. Understanding the dynamics of how a user engages with content (be it on the web, on television, in a magazine) is of paramount importance to the planning and success of any campaign.   

A recent study by iProspect emphasized the obvious fact that clicking on an online display ad is not the only way to respond. The basis for the study was a survey conducted by Forrester Consulting. Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • 31% of respondents said they responded to display ads by clicking on them
  • 27% of respondents said they responded to display ads by doing a search for the product, brand or company
  • 21% of respondents said they “typed the company Web address into browser and navigated to site”
  • 9% reported that they investigated the product, brand or company through social media message boards

In my opinion, that’s a pretty amazing response picture. A smart planner could use this information to formulate a thoughtful cross-media strategy with the banner at center stage.

Those whose view of display advertising performance is centered on clicks and CTR are really missing the point. Online display is far more measurable than any traditional medium, be it print, radio, TV or outdoor. Our ability to measure it in a way we cannot measure any other medium does necessitate that we restrict our view of its performance to that metric alone.

The whole premise of brand advertising is to expose potential consumers to your product so that they can become familiar with you and your offering (and eventually buy). Remarkably, the study also indicated that people were more likely to purchase a product through a display ad if they were already familiar with the company; it’s not rocket science!

Display drives search and latent conversion in the same way that a TV or billboard ad does. I see the ad, I take note of it (if the offer or creative is compelling to me), and then at a later time when it’s convenient, I’ll look it up.

Have we lost sight of the all important sales metric? Isn’t that really what this all boils down to? We advertise, ultimately to generate more sales. If your program is delivering positive ROI, then something is obviously working regardless of your CTR.

Here are a few insights I can share from the network’s perspective:

  • Well known household brands who have already established equity with consumers are likely to see higher display CTRs than companies whose brand/products are new and unfamiliar. This is a fact we witness daily on the network.
  • Targeted display campaigns that run in conjunction with offline flights are likely to see higher CTRs. Ditto; witnessed daily on our network, and no doubt across all other venues used on the media plan.

Whether your campaign objective is direct response or merely exposure, you will inevitable get a brand lift out of your display efforts. Consumers purchase products form companies with which they are familiar and in which they believe. It is very challenging to create that type of connection without display.

Advertising is an organic process, as much as it is scientific and research based. Not every effort will result in an immediately discernable ROI. Sometimes, you need to step back and evaluate the big picture of your efforts and how everything interrelates (rather than micro-analyzing the individual components of your plan).

Here are a few simple tips for using display effectively to achieve brand response objectives:

  • Recognize that banners make a great hub for your efforts.
  • Time your online display campaigns with offline initiatives.
  • Develop search and social media strategies that compliment your core campaign focus to capitalize on the multiple response patters that will spawn from exposure to your display ads.
  • Make reference to current promotions on your corporate or brand website.

And for the publisher community, my tip to you is to be more objective about the locations in which you place your banners. Don’t allow these decisions to be driven solely by short-term dollars and cents. If you are placing banners in areas of your site that offer little value to advertisers, you are simultaneously harming the perceived value of your inventory.

If you don’t have a frame of reference for which placements are valuable and which are not, then ask an ad network – we do this every day! And if ad positioning decisions are controlled by your web design team (aesthetics vs. value), then push for more say in the process. Your efforts here will pay off in spades down the road.

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