Why I Love Web Banners

The usual debate on the efficacy of web banners has reached a new level. I’m not sure if it’s the end of Monica-gate or just a paucity of good jokes to exchange. But every time I open my email I find another article, or the same article unequivocally proving or disapproving the value of banners. The Industry Standard devoted a special section to the topic and PC Week regularly continues the debate. The publication of the Ipsos-AS study provided further fodder.

Nor is this a complaint about the volume of the debate, or even its intensity. For quite a while now it’s been a great distraction from all the “old” arguments — over the value of branding, or the ROI for television advertising. Remember all those arguments we used to have with our clients? All the White Papers we produced before the web miraculously transformed TV into the Holy Grail of advertising effectiveness? Now we can concentrate on proving if this newcomer — the most accountable and intimate media ever-invented — can help us build brands, generate leads, or sustain customer relationships.

But, that is “the web,” and we were talking about those poor, blighted web banners. Maligned and defended with equal vigor as if with enough verbiage (irony noted) we could find the one right answer.

What is so irksome about this debate? The need so early in the evolution of this medium to find the one right answer. Luckily, there is evidence for almost every opinion, and some of it is so flexible it can be used equally well to make the opposing point.

Yippee! Banners Are Useless

Some of the most often cited evidence against web banners is the use of offline media by e-brands. This argument was used by Jim Evans in a recent issue of the Industry Standard when he asked, “If the Internet is such a great environment for advertising, why are e-commerce companies spending so much money on TV, radio, billboard and print ads?”

The short answer is people live offline, and if you want to communicate with them you need to go where they live. Which is why television stations buy billboards and radio stations buy television commercials, and e-commerce sites buy both. The long answer is the best brand-driven media plans utilize a combination of media to ensure maximum coverage and reach the target at as many points in their day as possible. Getting the message out at an acceptable frequency is critical, and using a variety of offline and online media make this possible.

So if this is the argument for why web banners don’t work hand me a GIF builder.

Hurrah! Banners Work

The Ipsos-AS released study, as reported in Adweek Online, is said to prove that “Banners Work as Well as TV.” A very short article goes on to state that the study found, “The recall level of an online banner ad is equivalent to that of a television ad when measured for immediate recall, the industry norm for online advertising.”

I haven’t read the study, but I would bet neither have the hundreds of online media sales people who are now inserting those results into a PowerPoint slide in their sales pitch, so let’s just look a little closer at what we’ve got.

First, “immediate recall” is not the most salient factor in determining any execution’s branding capabilities. It is actually one of the weaker measures, as it carries no evaluation of associated positive or negative attributes. It also lacks the power of a measure like “unaided recall,” which at least gives researchers a sense of an execution’s staying power.

More confusing is the claim that immediate recall is “the industry norm for online advertising.” If it is the norm (whatever that means), that’s unfortunate, as it ensures the full branding capabilities of banners may never be fully understood. It also further de-values web banners as it suggests that a web-based execution that can only be measured on one attribute, versus a TV execution that can be measured against a full battery of branding attributes.

If this is the best argument for web banner effectiveness buy me an airport diorama.

It Depends – Web Banners Work Sometimes

The most compelling discussions let go of the need for definitive answers and suggest evaluating web banner effectiveness against individual product or campaign goals. Not to mention accounting for the combined talent of the creative and media teams.

In the age of the much quoted click-through rate of below 1 percent, I have seen consistent 4 to 6 percent click-through rates, dating as recently as last month. Yes, it was a portal word-buy with as rich a media banner as possible, but that is the point. It’s too early for generalizations.

Or, to quote a victor in another revolution, Premiere Zhou En Lai when he was asked (in 1973) about the impact of the French Revolution on history: “It’s too early to say.”

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