Is The Banner Ad Dead?

Posted on March 27th, 2013 by True Media

It’s a thought that I often have, especially in the last few months as I have read various articles on both sides of the issue. After all, the banner ad is 18 years old, and the average internet user is served 1,700+ banner ads per month according to ComScore. All of this begs the question – do we as an industry owe it to consumers, clients and ourselves to develop a better system? Susan Wojcicki from Google just touched on this in a recent Adweek article where she talked about the future of digital advertising.
Let’s first set the stage here. The goal of any campaign is to reach a specific audience with engaging creative and get that consumer to perform some kind of action. It doesn’t really matter if it’s all traditional media, all digital or a combination. We are trying to get people to buy something, drive them to another site, sign up for a newsletter, etc. The possibilities are immense. In the digital space, banner ads have done a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to this. Specifically, the three little IAB ads we all know and love.


Yet you can find endless stories on the web stating that just 16 percent of people click on ads, while half of those account for 85 percent of all clicks. On a side note, who are those 8 percent clicking on all those ads? Now I argue all the time against just looking at CTRs. Quite honestly it’s a metric that we need to almost get rid of. Since it was the first digital metric if you will, it’s what people have latched onto and just can’t let go of. There are so many more metrics to think about depending on the goals of your campaign. And now with the explosion of big data, we have much more important things to consider. Harvard Business Review just had a great article on data and metrics which illustrate this point.
Now I applaud the digital industry for constantly evolving and looking for new ways to not only engage consumers, but to also find those people and serve them ads. The industry as a whole is shifting towards programmatic buying, which helps with finding the ideal consumer at a low price in combination with “big data”. Additionally, rich media ad units are seeing better performance, dynamic creative with multiple products that encourages engagement are doing better, and now with the ability to put video pretty much anywhere online, it’s opened up another swim lane if you will. Yet all of that, for the most part, still largely depends on those three ad formats.
I know there are a lot of other options out there -everything from skinning a website to home page takeovers to the IAB rising star ad units to native advertising. The problem with all of those is scale and cost.  No one has enough money to do those types of ads for any great length of time; you still must have a display campaign to help deliver the message. Plus not every agency works with billion dollar clients with endless piles of cash. A lot of us, including True Media, work with mid-size clients who deserve just as much research, creativity and strategy as the big guys.
When I ask the question; is the banner ad dead, I’m really asking the industry if it’s time to blow up the banner ad as we know it and start over. Rather than looking for ways to reinvent what we can do within a 300×250 space, should we reinvent for the masses what an online ad can be?  If we knew then what we know now, would we still have built those three little display ads back when Al Gore invented the internet?