Moving Beyond Banners


finishline_smallADOTAS – As most everybody connected with the industry has seen, domestic ad spending is on the rebound in 2010 with a nearly 6% increase during the first half of the year alone. A September report from research firm Kantar Media only broke out display spending for digital, but overall as a category, display was up nearly 6%. AOL also announced that it was increasing the size of the banners it runs, further providing testament to this statistic.

While the trend appears to be “bigger is better,” I’d like to believe that the industry has evolved “beyond the banner” in online advertising. Storytelling through integrated sponsorships is far more effective at enhancing awareness, preference, and ultimately, purchase intent for the product or service being advertised.

Organically integrating a brand into site content provides a level of interaction that is nearly impossible to achieve with a standard (or nonstandard) media unit. Users are sure to rebel against these larger ad formats, whereas seamless integration of a brand into the content that users already want and consume means you are far more likely to actually engage them.

In a community setting, similar to social networks like Facebook, the power of word of mouth is magnified exponentially. Users are far more likely to trust their friends or people they know over those that they do not. This trust can help virally spread the word regarding an advertised product or service more easily. By “pulling” rather than “pushing” users into this type of messaging, the results are even more amplified.

Of course, there are inherent costs associated with integrated brands but it is difficult to argue with the overall effectiveness of these campaigns. They involve multiple departments within an organization; creative, development, engineering, sales, and account management, to name a few.

The team needs a full understanding of what a client’s objectives for the advertised brand are, and it helps to understand the offline marketing initiatives of the brand in order to effectively connect the dots between linear and digital. If you properly achieve this, the results speak for themselves.

It takes a lot of work to get this right. However, isn’t this what we should be accomplishing for our partners anyway? Sure, the results related to display speak for itself – advertisers are spending more money on these ad units, which is good for all of us connected to the industry. That does not mean, however, that this money is being spent as wisely as it could be, or better yet, that the money being spent and the clicks generated are leading to increased sales.

I am aware of the reports out there suggesting the obvious impacts on consumer behavior as it relates to display units, but also realize that CTRs are declining. The larger and more obtrusive these ad units become, the more frustration web users are going to experience, which in turn will lead to even more “banner blindness”, a term that is becoming increasingly popular, based on the declining CTR’s experienced throughout the industry.

As a result, we get innovation such as AOL’s “Project Devil” or other advances that really do not improve a site user’s experience. Is that really what is needed in an increasingly fragmented and more socially-connected Internet experience?

I would prefer to think that web users are more likely to accept sponsorships and other forms of integrated advertising that actually align with their overall experience on the site being visited. In essence, by doing this we are actually “listening” to them, and making the experience more relevant.

It’s certainly no secret that “interaction” and “engagement” are two of the most over-utilized terms associated with online advertising this century. But if we can get members of a community to spend more time with brands within more integrated environments, we are improving the overall experience and putting the brand in a more favorable light with users who would previously only see banners and largely ignore them.

I do believe we can do better as an industry. We need more innovation in this area. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare obviously realize this, and are aiming to innovate consistently. Other sites in the social networking/virtual world space are also engaging users in a manner that is more consistent with a brand’s ultimate goal — whether it is awareness or a myriad of other ad effectiveness metrics.

I think that this trend will continue and I’d like to hope that we don’t end up in a zero sum game of “bigger is better.” Nobody actually wins in that scenario.


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