In Defense of Banners

When I was writing essays in college about the use of threshold imagery in Homer’s The Odyssey, I could hardly imagine that in 1999, I would be dashing off a sermonette in defense of web banner advertising. But here I am.

Banners don’t really need my defense. A recently published study shows that banner advertising is at least as effective as television commercials when it comes to branding. For me, that comes as no surprise.

And I’m not certain that declining click-through rates mean that there’s something horribly flawed with banner advertising as a tactic. In my highly unscientific opinion, the much-bemoaned CTR decline may be due to marketers and creative folks arriving at banner solutions that are confusing, inappropriate, or just plain stupid.

Plus, it would be refreshing if, every once in a while, an agency person turned down a check and said, “We at Sullen Underfoot don’t think that your one-location palm and tarot card-reading business is a perfect candidate for a banner campaign at www.redherring.com.” Just a thought. At this point, I could be a bit cheesy and talk about our firm’s experience with banner ads. But I think I heard you whisper “Hold the cheese.”

Instead I’m going to draw upon my proven abilities to state the obvious: Banner advertising is just that: advertising. It’s a delineated, paid-for space devoted to advertising. As a fairly good web citizen, I like its obviousness.

Yes, some home pages look like the old Vegas Strip in miniature. Yes, when they download, your eyes are reminded of that scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” when we’re shown the fallen Pottersville (which used to be Bedford Falls, before Old Man Potter took charge), a coarse place of gin joints and neon, and lives lived on the surface of things.

But, when you see a banner, you get it: It’s all to serve a commercial interest. That’s not bad.

At a time in the web’s development when editorial and advertising are often hard to distinguish, I like the obviousness of banner ads. The web is too often a place of hiding, anonymity, covert alliances, and deals beneath the surface of the home page. We are witnessing the rise of “infomediaries” who don’t disclose whose pockets they’re in. There are stealth sites that have hidden corporate sponsors. It’s hard to be certain what all the agendas are.

I like banner advertising. You know where it’s coming from.

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