The Death of Display (As We Know It)?


Hold onto your hats: Yes, the banner ad has been around for nearly 20 years.  John Battelle posted earlier this year about the death of display, and we have taken notice that industry pundits across the globe (with the aid of PR agencies), have been eager to take a provocative stance on the decline of display advertising.

Really, though, is this an actual issue for consideration? Sources point to both yes and no. Please bear with me as I take a moment to break down both sides of this heated debate.

Yes, Display Is Dying A Quick Death

Yes, the banner ad as we knew it is no longer, and thank God. Remember those pixelated 728×90 leaderboards with static images for online adult chat sites that had absolutely no relation to any of the content on the page? Or those flashing online casino banners that just blinked blindingly quickly, almost screaming for your online attention? Or the first animated interactive game banner with the fly-swatter that moved every time your mouse moved? That was pretty novel at the time.

We’ve come a long way baby (Ahem … pardon the dated 1960s ad slogan reference. I’m clearly a product of consumerism). Today’s rich media ads and those annoying screen-takeovers are paving the way for tomorrow’s new crop of ad units, social ads and mobile banners. People have now gotten smarter, and so have the ads. Many believe that this new direction is changing and redefining the game for brand advertisers. Yes, according to several ballers in the ad industry I know, it’s time for celebration, and I may need to break out my pack of Virginia Slims to celebrate.

Will Integrated Campaigns Overtake Display?

As any ad guy or gal will tell you, today display is just one part of a more holistic campaign approach that includes: interactive, social, print, PPC, SEO and direct marketing. Advertisers have argued that many people are now desensitized by online banner advertisements, placing less emphasis on this medium for reaching consumers.

According to Spongecell CEO Ben Kartzman,“We believe advertisers should be able to run fully integrated campaigns — in other words, create advertisements for multiple platforms using the same set of creative assets and the same workflow. Currently, an advertiser can come to us and create an integrated display and interactive pre-roll campaign.  We want to offer the same thing with mobile.  The goal is to give advertisers a simple one-stop solution for their interactive ad needs.  In fact, we made a strategic acquisition of a tablet ad company back in April to help us with these efforts.

Nope, Display Is Here to Stay

On the other side of the coin, Kartzman does not believe that display is going anywhere anytime soon. “The future of display is dynamic,” adds Kartzman. “The barrier that has prevented wide adoption has been the lack of technology to make it easy and fast to create dynamic campaigns.  We know rich works and out performs static and flash banners.  Blending rich features, like product carousels, interactive maps, Twitter feeds etc., on top of dynamic — and doing it fast — is what makes Spongecell unique.”

Another avenue supporting the longevity and the evolution display is the rapid emergence of mobile display advertising.According to a recent infographic by OpenX, mobile advertising increased by 149 percent in 2011 while print ad spend has decreased by 50 percent. Television ad spend increased by only 7.6 percent in 2012 according to Kantar Media.

Mobile is where many media companies are now focusing their efforts. According to Gurbaksh Chahal, CEO of RadiumOne a social advertising company that handles social sharing data to amplify audience scale and deliver ads based on first-party sharing data that, in turn, leverage social sharing data across the open web, “We certainly don’t believe display is dead, especially when it’s still growing and spreading to mobile in a big way. One thing for certain is that there has been a lack of innovation in the online ad space for quite some time and legacy players are not adapting to the changing landscape. Those who are able to adapt to the market shift by combining both mobile and social advertising, will walk away as the big winners.”

The Rising Stars of New IAB Ad Units

Over the weekend I was checking out the IAB’s new Rising Stars Ad Units and the billboard by Google basically takes the banner ad and infuses embeddable rich media content like YouTube videos and dynamic screenshot toggling from within the ads themselves, much like the album cover flow view in iTunes. The filmstrip ad unit by Microsoft Advertising presents content vertically to map consumer intent through walking people through the customization of a new car through the interactive ad.

The pushdown by Pictela has social sharing functionality integrated right with the creative as an overlay in the unit, so that users can send photos and ad content directly to Facebook and Twitter while the Sidekick creates vertical expandable tabs that expand when clicked, and can hold rich media content like videos, social tools and interactive mini apps.

What Will Save Display?

The key hurdle for display advertising – and interactive advertising  in general – is the seamless integration of real-time ad bidding with  real-time creative.  Kartzman added, “The past two years have seen enormous growth in the RTB landscape.  The next few years will really be about real-time  creative – the real-time matching of specific creative to specific  consumers.”  This offers both advertisers and consumers a win-win  situation: Advertisers get their message in front of interested  consumers, and consumers get to see messages that they are actually  interested in receiving.

The ability to really combine real-time bidding with dynamic creative optimization, coupled with social intelligence and rich media would be a quantum leap in advertising; it’s where the market is headed and what  may ultimately disrupt the ad industry as we know it.


  1. Such an interesting outlook on the banner ad and whats happening to display, definitely something to think about as technology continues to advance.

  2. It’s so interesting to see how quickly and dramatically advertising can change, but the basics will always remain the same. Real time bidding and social intelligence of course the next big thing. Great article!

  3. Hey Richard. This subject has been hot for a bit. I was the Founder and CEO of Lijit and before I left FM we talked a lot about this subject.

    Now that I have been out of the space for a while and doing a lot of web surfing researching I have noticed just how effective Display actually is. Case in point, I use retargeting as the reference point. I see a lot of retargeting everyday and I notice it because, well, they are things I have been looking at recently. I think the point some often miss, is you are “seeing” all the ad’s not just the retargeting that is popping into your conscience thought. Those who claim that display doesn’t work I think are perhaps being a literal in their thinking.

    Another thing I always thought was funny was the statement that, people aren’t clicking on display – therefore they do not work. Perhaps, but by contrast I have never clicked on a billboard and Gannett is doing just fine.

    The point is, if these things don’t work, there would not be a market for them. Exchange technology allows everyone access to this at fair prices and in scale. It works.


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