Do You Buy Banners?

Do you buy banners?

A few years ago, that question would never have come up. But recently it did — and on a blog read and written by Internet marketers at that.

At first blush, I thought the query to be a little unnecessary. Of course marketers buy banners! They’re the foundation of online advertising and most interactive campaigns. But the truth is, banners aren’t quite the online media darlings they used to be.

This is in part because banners have become omnipresent. They’ve created clutter on virtually every site, to the point at which Internet users are disregarding them altogether. A recent eye-tracking study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group found Internet users avoid viewing banners. They do, however, pay attention to text ads, such as those used in paid search.

With this option at their disposal, many marketers have gone from seeing banners as the must-have units to putting their trust in search. According to a new study by Merrill Lynch, paid search spending will account for 42 percent of online advertising next year. Compare this cost-effective, results-oriented alternative with the average investment required to conceptualize, develop, place, and manage a banner campaign, and it’s easy to see how buyers could be convinced to forsake the original online ad.

We’re also dedicating our attention to comparably unconventional interactive marketing initiatives, like blogs and viral marketing. Though such programs can be more costly to implement, the associated benefits are ongoing. When a single-flight banner campaign comes to an end, meanwhile, so do the measurable results.

Online video’s evolution has certainly enhanced the banner’s worth, yet video banners represent a miniscule percentage of all online ads. Twelve years later, most banners aren’t especially different from the first 468 x 60. Maybe that’s why some associate them with the old-school Internet.

Why do we continue to buy banners? The Merrill Lynch study predicts branded ad spending will grow 21 percent in 2007, just 6 percentage points less than search advertising’s estimated growth. Rich media firms are still developing new banner units. Ad networks have no shortage of clients. Despite many seemingly negative strikes against it, the banner is still viewed as indispensable by many.

To ask whether marketers still buy banners, then, is to ask media buyers to judge the unit against other online media. Naturally this is required of marketers when allocating their media budgets, but it’s also somewhat unfair. A banner’s place isn’t as a customer-acquisition tool, like paid search ads. It’s far more effective at improving brand awareness and educating potential customers about a product line.

Banners’ value is demarcated by their alternate name: display ads. They’re visual by nature, so they allow marketers to display their message, illustrate their products, and imprint their image on the minds of consumers in a way other forms of online media don’t.

For innumerable brand advertisers, such objectives are an integral part of every ad campaign. They rely on expandable banners to familiarize potential customers with their products without requiring them to leave the site on which the banner appears. They also combine them with behavioral targeting technology to better connect with audiences. Without them, establishing a presence on content-rich portals and community-oriented social networks would be a challenge, let alone attempting to differentiate oneself from competing businesses. There’s more freedom in banner design than the average client would ever need.

Maybe the more germane question is, how do you use banners to maximize your brand, campaign, and marketing objectives? Learn how to leverage this traditional yet progressive format to meet your individual needs, and you’ll never hesitate to answer.

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