How to Make Stupid Banner Advertisements
Tips & tricks to ensure a total fail and to draw my personal ire & ultimate disgust.
Everyone hates banner advertising, right?
Perhaps; but I’m under the growing suspicion that the true disapproval of banner advertising has more to do with the thoughtless development focus and less to do with the success of the advertising medium itself.
There are so many poorly designed banners floating around the Internet and so little time to dismantle them, but I will do my best to outline some very case-in-point examples of creative methodology blunders, faux pas, and things that make my loins stir with delight.
What is the goal of interactive media as a figment of a total marketing mix? Banner placements (in the traditional sense) are most effective as a means of driving search, brand recall, and enhancing reputation. Even after taking advantage of the latest and greatest ad technologies (contextual, behavioral, etc.), click-to-conversions should be considered gravy on top of your mashed potatoes. Other site based metrics, namely branded search and return visitation, should be monitored as the core KPIs.
Here is a sample quantification of a successful banner campaign (mind you, omniture and other reporting tools other than Google Analytics make this much easier through engagement mapping):
Figure 1Note the all too coincidental occurrence of impression spikes leading to Paid Search conversion.
There are plenty of external forces that can attribute to banner success and failure, depending upon the marketing channels that are being exploited. The above example is taken from a client that was hot & heavy running a contextual/behavioral hybrid campaign along with a well optimized adwords campaign. The results, both site-wide (branded growth and return visitation) and multi-dimensional (above), all lent themselves to great success, but the click-to-conversion was the most porous of all, to the tune of .05%.
Do you really actually really, really, really care about clicks or not?
‘Clicks…clicks! I want some freakin’ clicks!’
Playing the click-through rate game won’t work for everyone. Are you interested in a low click cost on banners or a more utopian ROI? Any good media planner will tell you that a case can be made for the latter in any pliable banner strategy. Expecting a viewer, only known by a few blatant behavioral cues or their news content preference, to gain enough education from your banner messaging and immediate site content to convert on the first visit is fools’ gold for most campaigns. Good luck even giving away free Rolexes with 100% first visit transactions. Unless technology allows us to serve banners to a group with a pre-disposition for searching your brand by name, we are stuck using traditional display advertising to serve a more lengthy purpose.
Position your banners to be a constant testable feature as a branding element, optimize them for recall, not clicks, and you will be set free from the ghosts of CTR’s past.
Click grabbers take any number of shapes and abominable formats. A few of the more traditional are:
And my favorite…
Oh, don’t forget this classic…
Don’t let me forget to mention that banners developed strictly for insane CTRs are not always complete failures. Actually, sites driving mass volumes of visitors interested only in achieving an insanely low cost per visit probably do okay (arbitrage, investment seekers, etc).
Let’s take a look at a few examples of live campaigns. Mind you, without seeing performance data, campaign targeting & rationale, or interviewing all involved parties; I’m merely looking at a live cow and telling you the milk is expired or totally delicious.
An important consideration when developing banners is the habits of the end user. If we’re serving ads to someone that may pass judgment in as little as 1/20th of a second, then at worst case we’d like that short period of time to be spent swallowing a thought that can later be recalled and researched. Below is a mostly static banner running live for girleffect.org.
In Googling the message “change starts with a girl,” their domain associated with the campaign lands #1. In the banner itself, the domain is hardly legible due to the miniscule font size; and in searching “girl effect” they also appear at #1. Why is this a big deal? Point blank, people will be influenced to search by your banners.
Figure 2 63% of respondents performed a related search from promotional ads
Figure 3 88% of respondents interacted in some way to web-based ads.
The question is, though you are ranking for your banner messaging, don’t they have the opportunity to pick up a more exact match and drive the all important ‘direct visitors’ (domain typed into browser)? Direct traffic is critical because it takes any possible search-based distraction out of visitor acquisition. Unless Girleffect.org knows more about me than I do, I’d assume that the targeting is inappropriate in serving me (a 30 year old male) this ad. Impression spillage is the utmost critical, especially if your banner isn’t otherwise the best thing since sliced HTML. Kudos for owning the SERPs for the ad keyword set, but this impression was ‘spilled’ on me with a slight misaligned messaging priority.
Let’s quickly outline a few important considerations in developing banners:
- Recall optimized
The banner as it appears below breaks nearly every rule.
1. Targeting: This display ad may or may not have been behaviorally targeted as I was logged in when I received the impression and I do remember searching within the network categorically in the past month or so. The jury is out.
2. Relevancy: The banner has very little (if any) design cues taken from the destination (below). The segue from the call to action on the banner to the site content is slightly loose. Though the facts are in clear above the fold sight, it seems like a more relevant lander would be the Myths vs. Facts page or a hybrid that takes a user’s thought process from the call to action “click here to get the facts…” to the site’s actionable content (they have a quiz and a download).
3. Conciseness: Wow, let’s have a stab at paraphrasing here, folks. I understand that the Feds may play a role in what can and can’t be said in marketing collateral for this particular sector, but there is most likely no reason to have an eight-phrase call to action. Remember our previous 1/20th of a second judgement period? This lengthiness in messaging, lack of banner mobility (the messaging fades in and is the only such movement), and diuretic call to action make this a highly inconcise banner ad.
4. Recall Optimized: Marketing Sherpa has reported that the ideal frame format to drive brand recall is to alternate strictly branded slides between messaging elements. I tend to agree with the Sherpa quite frequently, as do tests and experiments. In this instance, we have no bold and visible logo; no theme connection or relevancy between banner and landing page; nor is the image of a scale consistent with the site. Our sole recall optimization point is that in the unlikely circumstance that a user is driven to search ‘high fructose corn syrup’ after viewing this banner, they will be grabbed by a paid sweetsurprise.com ad sitting in the #1 spot.
5. Simplicity: Simplicity really refers to the ability to convey your message in a limited character count or effectively with images. This banner misses the mark. It’s important to remember that unless you are a monster brand with a great reputation, you have not earned enough credibility to make your content desirable to the general population. Once you’ve paraphrased your original messaging, take another read-through and clip some more. Sometimes you can even risk being grammatically questionable and still be well within best practices for effective banner creation. It’s very important to remember that it is typically not the most creative banner messaging that performs best; more often than not it may simply be the most obvious.
This is a terrific example. The below banner is as concise, simplistic, recall-optimized ad (try searching for ‘mini sirloin burger’ and note the well-sized logo). The call to action is so simple and creative that it is frightening.
And frankly the worst thing you can do is allow chop-shop affiliates to butcher your brand with poor grammar or misrepresentations (see below). Keep your brand standards and guidelines underneath your pillow at night; it should have drool stains. If engaging in affiliate marketing make sure that you are being represented with dignity, for crying out loud.
Banner advertising is far from being a lost form of online media. The perception of banners being an ineffective means of delivering a message comes from an explicable misaligned set of goals, tracking, and judgment in developing goals and performance indicators. The only death in the banner family is the click-through-rate as a means of gauging total campaign performance. With a proper creative audit for consistency, simplicity, and integrated relevancy, you too can have a Jim dandy of a banner strategy to compliment your marketing mix.June 3, 2009 6:29 am Media