6 Ways to Reanimate the Battered Banner Ad

by Raphael Nolens - December 28, 2015

Scientific proof that no one pays attention to banner ads”. How’s that as a wonderful headline to kick off a piece entitled ‘6 Ways to Reanimate the Battered Banner Ad’?

“You’re more likely to complete Navy SEAL training than click on a banner.” “Ad blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months.” And “the clickthrough rate of display ads across all formats and placements is down to an average 0.06%.” Thanks for that knock-out (stat), Think With Google.

We’ve had banner blindness, ad blocking and ejaculations galore of the same refrain: “display is dead.”

Well. Is it?

Why then aren’t we witnessing an epic ‘Banner Run’?

Where are the advertising masses utterly done with display?

(Disclosure: our employer’s baseline reads #resisttheusual. Imperative.)

Could it be that most advertisers – not to mention publishers – still consider it worthwile to keep the dead(ish) ad format afloat?

So, before you reallocate all those ad dollars, here are six things you might want to reconsider (keeping in mind an integrated perspective will prove to be key.)

This article is written by Raphael Nolens, Niky Patyn & Frank Delmelle.

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1. Reconsider why you banner
and pay for performance

If “54% of users don’t click banner ads because they don’t trust them,” couldn’t that mean something is questionable about the intent with which advertisers banner in the first place?

Do you banner for eyeballs, for clicks or conversions? And do you consequently pay per view, per click or per acquisition? Who’s pulling the levers when it comes to the banner strategy? The branding department? Or the left-brainers from the performance desk?

Needless to say these persistent silos within many a marketing department have become anachronisms. How can display and search, for example, be separate departments when people are retargeted based on their behavior? Brand keyword usage, by the way, is probably the best metric for brand interest.

Should banners, for their part, build brand awareness or deliver conversions? Or could that difference as well have become artificial?

Grab a chair if you must: in 2016 brands are built after the click. Mid-funnel and onwards is where the marketing magic happens today. The world’s most valuable brand, for the record, is entirely built on customer task completion. Sheer (yo)utility if you like. (Hint: it’s not a search engine, it’s a find engine.) Ditto for the runner up in that same ranking, by the way. (Hint: it’s not a fruit.)

Top-funnel, therefore, the best thing left to do on the banner front, is maximize effectiveness.

And that’s where reconsiderations 2-6 come into play.

2. Reconsider where you banner: 
forget the front page / hail the long tail

It feels good to be on the front page. Of course it does. Especially when it’s a/the premium publisher’s.

The most cost-effective place to banner, however, is rarely found at the top of the premium inventory pyramid. Why would you cough up an astronomical CPM for that front page spot – which, contentwise as well, probably is the most competitive ad context around – when that same audience can be found on a myriad of more economical domains?

Ask yourselves: how many different domains do you visit? (The number of places people visit online has been steadily shrinking for quite some time.) Where does search take you? How often is social your ‘traffic source’? How linear are the digital marketing funnels you travel through? And what percentage of your online discoveries happen in other, serendipitous ways?

Better banner performance ought to be found in long tail placements, provided they’re optimized in terms of the way people land on web domains anyway. Banners are signposts, essentially. Pointers. Hence it helps if people encounter appropriate ones – on their binging, browsing or buying sprees – pointing at stuff they are looking for in the first place.

“Half of all clicks on mobile ads are accidental,” says another disastrous stat. Here’s what to do about that: forget those front pages for a minute – they’re the lazy advertiser’s favorite place to banner – and put your display ads where they belong: at the beginning of your audience’s conversion path(s).Image title

3. Reconsider who you banner to 
and be strictly audience-centric

Are you a pusher or a puller? Do your banners command? Do they call to action? Or do they rather inform, inspire, educate, congratulate perhaps? (PM Niky to learn about our ‘congratulating banner case’ that generated 10k conversions / 44m impressions at a €2,76 CPA). How empathic are your banners?

Empathy? Is there an algorithm for that? Well, you might want to file empathy in the old-school marketing buzzword bucket – we are living data-driven and performance-based times after all – yet we would not mention the e-word, if it didn’t matter for your banner. Empathy simply means you show interest in your audience’s interests.

(Warning: at some point or another the question will be raised whether you’re bannering to dumbasses or ‘learning beings’… Don’t let that put you off.)

In terms of banner copy, however concise, empathy translates into taking into account who your prospects are (profile data), what they’ve been looking for (search behavior), where they’ve been (browsing behavior), what they’ve been up to (their CRM data) and how they’ve been (data social media should have hoovered for you; let’s say we’ll get back to that one in 2016.)

In terms of banner strategy, finally, empathy should translate into addressing contextually qualified consumers rather than merely buying audiences or placements as such. People who are retargeted in such an empathic way are “70% more likely to convert” by the way. (Found that figure – nomen est omen –on retargeter.com.)

Takeaway at this point? Bannering is like photography. Automation is beneficial to those who don’t know what they’re doing. Average settings, however, will generate average results. Add a human eye to make your pic truly spark.

4. Reconsider when you banner:
be both timely and opportune

If “33% of internet users find display ads completely intolerable,” in somewhere around one in three cases, bad banner timing is to blame. Have you ever visited a news website to click on a banner? You haven’t.

The good news here is, there’s only three words to remember in order to get your banner timing right – and they even semi-alliterate: likeliness to leave. If people despise display ads pre task completion, they’re bothered significantly less by your banners post task completion, i.e. on their way out of your website, c.q. after they’ve checked whether or not the rest of the day will remain rainy.

Likeliness to leave is the single best indicator as for when to banner best.

Note: compared to the front page we mentioned before, in publishers’ remnant inventory, timing matters even more. Especially in these economical territories, more isn’t necessarily better anymore. Key, on the contrary, will be to cap your banner frequency appropriately.

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5. Reconsider how you banner
and discover sober makes sense

“In the never-ending battle for consumer attention, brands have turned the modern world into a giant, colorful, kaleidoscopic mess with sky-high billboards, glitzy TV spots, and flashy web ads following people everywhere they go.” (Phrase nicked from Annum Munir.)

There is no such thing as banner blindness proof design, unfortunately. Our own experience, however, tends to prove common sense right: in a context saturated with bells and whistles, bells and whistles might not be the most helpful attributes to stand out of the crowd.

If yelling and selling were a happily advertising couple once, profound alienation is their part today. When it comes to banner design, less has come to mean more in 99% of the cases. Visuals regulary do more harm than good. Ditto for animations, color schemes and whatever else there is to spoil peaceful ad perception. (‘Click here’, in case you were wondering, has had its hay day in the nineties; calls to action had often better be scraped as well.) In short: “clarity trumps persuasion” is the paradigm today.

It is not a coincidence, in that respect, that “native ads receive 52% more visual focus than banners.”

6. Reconsider what you banner with
and be radically relevant

“2.8% of consumers consider banners relevant,” bannerblindness.org figured out for us. (That’s right: banner blindness has got its own .org, even if it stealthily lands on a .com.)

Anyway. Fat still is the chance to come across that intolerably irrelevant banner. If irrelevance has not been resolved after you ran through reconsiderations 1-5 mentioned above, there is one final parameter for you to examine: content.

Your banners, by now, are appropriately positioned at the outset of a conversion path (see 2 supra) and your brand is up to fact that it will be built after the click (see 1 supra). You’re all set, in sum, to find the final piece of your Better Banner Puzzle: your answer to the question ‘what do my banners point at’?

Will banner clicks land on something worth consuming? Have you got the content in place that won’t dissappoint? Inspiration? Check. Newsworthiness? Check. Entertainment? Why not. Utility? Double check. (See also 3 supra.)

On a positive note, to conclude: relevance does not involve any alchemy. If the banner click lands on an answered customer question, anything solid enough to satisfy your visitor’s curiosity, chances are relevance follows suit.

The ‘trick’ is, rather than pray for topsy-turvy customer journeys, to proceed from storydoing to storytelling to bannering. In a frighteningly simple ‘three step approach’: 1) do relevant stuff, 2) tell the world what you do (and how and why and…; that would be the content) and 3) banner accordingly.

Proof of the relevance pudding? What do you do when you see something online that interests you? Exactly. You click on it. The “that interests you” part therefore is a prerequisite.

Prepare to see bounce rates and cost per significant visits crumble as well, when you assess you next banner campaign’s success.

Raphael Nolens is Head of Performance at These Days.

Niky Patyn is These Days‘ Reluctant King of Conversion.

Frank Delmelle is Senior Content Strategist at These Days.

Raphael Nolens

Head of Performance Marketing