Banner Ad Turns 15, Earns Learner’s Permit

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On this day in 1994, HotWired.com made Internet history by becoming the first online publisher to display a banner ad. The unit was 468 x 60 pixels and was purchased by either Volvo, MCI, Club Med, Zima, 1-800-Collect or AT&T, all of which reportedly bought ad space that fateful day. The AT&T version above asked/promised, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.”

If the copywriter were given a do-over today, he or she might change the line to, “You will, for a few years anyway.”

To say the banner ad has had an ignominious childhood and adolescence is to understate consumers’ loathing for it. The format has been equated with deception and sleaze to such an extent that it’s reputation today is worse than any other ad medium suffered at a similar stage of development. To make matters worse, the effectiveness of display ads has steadily declined on nearly every metric: click rates, interaction rates, brand recall, you name it.

Of course banners have had a few good moments along the way. Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign broke ground by synchronizing ad space on NYTimes.com. IBM brought live video chat to banner space. GE, American Express, and Pringles also come to mind as great banner ad brands.

And luckily, the banner’s fortunes are bound to improve. No sane person would argue display advertising is endangered, however much they may hate IAB standard formats. More to the point: The past year or two have brought some striking developments in display media, which collectively promise to help this awkward teenager finally learn to drive like an upstanding medium.

A sampling of those developments, as reported on ClickZ:

IAB Seeks Creative Rebirth for Banner Ads
OPA Hopes to Spur Greater Creativity with New Ad Units
Agencies Break Away From Ad Networks
Google’s Ad Exchange Opens for Business
Study: Financial Display Ads Need More Human Touch

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A screenshot of an advert on YouTube for Grammarly.com.