Friday, February 12, 2010

Re-thinking the banner ad

There is something really alluring and magnetising about a doorway. Who wasn’t on the edge of their seat as Lucy discovers the doorway at the back of a wardrobe that ends up transporting her and her siblings to a magical world called Narnia, where animals can talk and all are ruled over by the wise and benevolent lion Aslan. They had the experience of their lives. Now I’m not suggesting that every brand needs to create such an extravaganza BUT I am advocating that brands utilise the magical, uniqueness of the internet and stop thinking of the ad spots as banners or skyscrapers – instead think of them as Doorway to a really extraordinary brand experience. And only online advertising can do this for you. Not a single other advertising medium can physically transport the audience anywhere.

The rationale is simple

Online advertising, with its pop-ups, banners, video pre-rolls and skyscrapers, is not a comparable replacement for traditional brand advertising, whether its 30sec TV spot, half page newspaper ad, or radio promotion. The online ad space is too small and inadequately shaped. On top of that, extensive industry eye tracking and heat map studies consistently confirm (over and over again) that banner blindness is real. Internet users almost never look at something that looks like an advertisement, whether or not its actually an ad. The one big hope media owners are riding on is the uptake of online video ads, either as disruptions or as pre-roll to other non-advertising video content. This hope based on online video viewing and streaming growth rates that are similar to growth rates of eBay in its early years. But lets face it. An online video screen is usually anywhere between 5mm and 15mm wide. Hardly a worthy replacement for the seeing the same ad on a high resolution, 28 or 32 inch TV screen.

Yet marketers and agencies continue to re-purpose traditional brand ads for the web display ads or video ads and then wonder why they a) get no uptake on brain equity scoring when just using online without other mediums and b) the average click through (to nothing particularly extraordinary) is extraordinarily low at 1% (and an even lower 0.15% on social networking sites).

It’s just very hard to get those small, awkward online ad spots to be a strong, stand-alone vehicle for brand messages or brand building.

There are three primary functions that people use the internet for: entertainment, information and help/guidance/transaction. People WANT to go places on the internet. They move around all the time. Use that. Don’t’ make the online ad the destination, but it the doorway into something extraordinary. Something that captures their attention or imagination (ideally leveraging one of the three primary functions that users are there for in the first place: entertainment, information, help) and persuades them to COME INSIDE. The internet is the only fully participative, discovery-based mass media that exists to date. Use this to your advantage. The more you can get people into your world, the better chance you have of connecting them to you.