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The Ad Banner Turns 10

  |  November 4, 2004   |  Comments

The banner ad turned 10 years old last month. Some best practices for using banners, in homage to our old online friend.

In October 1994, HotWired, Wired Magazine's former online counterpart, made history by placing the first banner ad on its site. It measured 468 x 60 pixels, was purchased by AT&T, and read, "Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will."

According to many reports, it wasn't the first time a banner actually appeared on a Web page. Some credit Dale Dougherty, founder of Global Network Navigator (GNN), which has been touted as the first commercial Web site. Whoever the true pioneer, the fact remains the banner has existed only for about 10 years.

It's been a wild ride.

Since its inception, the online banner has become a staple in Internet advertising and remains the foundation of many interactive campaigns. We've seen banners designed to generate clicks, promote brands, enter consumers in online contests, and produce leads. The format has had its ups and downs, to be sure (most recently, it's faced criticism for failing to perform in the face of newer formats and site clutter). But when this ad format is perfect for your campaign and employed intelligently, it can bring considerable success. Even after all of these years.

Below are some best practices for using banner ads, in homage to our old online friend.

Keep Them Relevant

According to the Ponemon Institute's 2004 Survey on Internet Ads , 66 percent of respondents said they would find relevant banner ads less annoying, and 52 percent would be more likely to respond to a relevant banner. Larry Ponemon, the institute's founder and chairman, has been quoted as saying, "It is the irrelevant content of ads rather than the ads themselves that consumers object to."

Obvious? Sure. Yet not all media buyers heed this advice.

By ensuring banner ads specifically address the target's interests, media buyers can drastically improve their chances for a successful campaign. Media buyers have access to countless behavioral marketing and contextual advertising tools, vendors, and advice. Keeping banners relevant is too simple to pass up.

Watch Your File Sizes

Contrary to what broadband providers would have us believe, high-speed Internet access hasn't yet penetrated every online household in America. Nielsen//NetRatings reports U.S. broadband at-home penetration passed the halfway mark only in July of this year. That means 49 percent of at-home Internet users still connect at painfully sluggish modem speeds.

If your banner campaign is designed to target at-home users, runs outside office hours, or includes placements on leisure sites, be cognizant of file size. Banners can't be effective if consumers click away or scroll past them before they have a chance to load. Consumers won't hold a favorable opinion of any advertiser who seem to purposefully slow them down. When planning such a banner campaign, ask your site sales rep what other clients do to accommodate narrowband users. Look for alternative technology that won't overly disrupt the dial-up surfing experience or require you to compromise on creative.

Use Animation Sparingly

Some of the most memorable banners employ animation, but that isn't always a positive. Remember those "punch the monkey" ads?

Enough said.

When banners are placed on content-heavy sites, media buyers are well advised to steer clear of excessive amounts of animation and video action. Just as Internet users don't respond to irrelevant advertising, they aren't likely to think well of distractions that aggressively disrupt their reading. Inserting a flashing banner into a text-heavy e-newsletter might seem like a good way to attract attention, but relaying a potent message in static form can be equally effective and far less offensive.

As media buyers, we can't help but wonder where online advertising would be without the banner. It's spawned countless other creative forms. And after years of competing formats, the banner still manages to hold its own. Where this pioneer will end up is unknown. Let's not let it go down without a fight.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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