Friday, November 19

Relegating Banners to the Kids Table

My former colleague Scott Johnson and I have an ongoing competition to determine who hates online banner advertising the most [Scott's latest volley, mine]. We love online media. We just think banner ads are an archaic format for advertisers. It's amazing how little they have evolved since 1994.

Everyone seems to take it for granted that banners must be the cornerstone of an online campaign. Media agencies assume they are expected to buy them, marketers assume they are expected to pay for them, creatives assume they have to animate them. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, they are like the guy who keeps showing up at family holiday gatherings over the years. He's always been there so we keep letting him in the door, even though he may not be related to anyone and we really hope he doesn't sit next to us.

It doesn't help that our industry is built on the backs of banners: publisher site revenue, 3rd party media reps, ad networks, rich media vendors, measurement companies, behavioral targeting specialists, real-time reverse-auction bid systems run by rocket scientists... The list goes on. Heck, even Google recently placed bets that banners will drive their business forward.

All in the face of declining clickthrough rates (see Mr. Johnson's bashing) and plummeting CPMs. According to Adweek, 1.3 trillion banner impressions in Q3 this year? That's a whole lot of clutter. It is good to know that the "success" of this influx of banner media is exactly why CTRs are so crappy:
According to “Standard Banners—Non-Standard Results,” it was the success of online display ads that caused the drop in clicks to begin with. As users saw more and more ads across the internet, many continued clicking, but not fast enough to keep up with the expanding inventory. Clickthrough rates fell steadily until reaching an equilibrium.
This is the most blatant banner denial that I have seen in a long time, but at least the research report came with charts. I still hold to my theory that the majority of online consumers ignore the non-clicked banners anyway.

Behavioral targeting has long been touted as the savior for banner media. Hey, if we can at least serve you banners that we think you are interested in, then maybe you will actually acknowledge their existence. Unless, of course, we aren't allowed to (courtesy of the NY Times):
After “do not call” lists became popular, more than 90 percent of people who signed up reported fewer annoying telemarketing calls. Now, privacy advocates are pushing for a similar “do not track” feature that would let Internet users tell Web sites to stop surreptitiously tracking their online habits and collecting clues about age, salary, health, location and leisure activities.
Online privacy issues are as old as the banner ad. They have been a constant drone in the media and something most consumers claim they are concerned about. Facebook's recent user data leaks only add fuel to the topic. For most of us, the need to delete browser cookies or reject Facebook application requests is greatly outweighed by our desire to play Mafia Wars and not have to remember website passwords.

But give me a chance to opt-out of having anonymous site usage info collected by marketers? Not exactly sure what that means, but I also hate telemarketing calls so sign me up! Those ad units would probably set a record for engagement rates. Which in turn would guarantee the death of behavioral targeting and all the companies whose revenue flow depends on it.

But what to do with all those media dollars? How about using it to pay media sites to create branded content for you. Not just sponsored content, but content created from your creative brief. And guess what? Those same media sites are pretty good at distributing that content for you as well, which gives new meaning to the term added value. I hate banners less if I'm not paying for them.

The demise of banner advertising is coming. Scott and I aren't the only ones who think so (requisite Wired link, read the last paragraph). You can huddle in your bomb shelter with your stockpile of backup GIFs and pretend it isn't happening. Or join us in our revolution. The future will not be clickable.


Unknown said...

Can't agree more on online media. Surprising that retargeting is a recent development...but at least it is on the right track.
However, we wouldn't need retargeting if we did our jobs as marketers and deliver the content, product and service our web viewers were looking for in the first place.

Cat Turner said...

Canny as always. I let out a whoop of delight when I came across your endorsement of branded content.