Banner ads need to evolve

10 April 2013

NEW YORK: Senior executives that were involved in creating and publishing the first banner ad, run on behalf of telecoms group AT&T in 1994, believe this channel has failed to live up to its potential thus far.

"The basic principles we started on have gotten lost," Andrew Anker, CEO at HotWired, the publisher of the pioneering banner, told Digiday. "We've over-optimized for direct response," he added.

Bill Clausen, now an executive vice president at Prelude Software but previously advertising and communications manager at AT&T from 1984 to 1996, was similarly critical.

"I don't think they've evolved enough," he said. "They've unfortunately suffered a very slow growth as far as what a smart person could do.

"Your banner ad needs to be clever," Clausen added. "Most people are ignoring them."

The agency personnel involved in developing AT&T's ground-breaking ad were equally dissatisfied about the lack of creativity being shown, and also had reservations about retargeting.

"Most [banners] aren't serving value," declared G.M. O'Connell, founder of Modem Media agency. "They're in the business of interrupting what you're doing."

"There's a limited creativity that's been applied with what you can do with that space and the space itself is very limiting," he added.

Joe McCambley, creative director at Modem Media, was also downbeat. "Between print, radio, TV, phones, the worldwide web, tablets and now mobile phones, our industry has been given so many opportunities to be great ... sure, not all ads can be fabulous, but our batting average is pathetic."

O'Connell described retargeting ads as "creepy" and warned that "online is not a medium built on intrusion".

While he understood the reasoning behind retargeting, O'Connell felt it was "the equivalent of tracking a guy out of a shopping mall to his car and jumping on top of his car."

Banner ads are failing to resonate with consumers, with a recent Forrester study discovering they are among the least trusted form of advertising.

Just 10% of Americans gave them a four- or five-point rating on an ascending five-point scale of trust. Only text messages from companies or brands scored less.

But banner ads can still have a positive effect, depending on their complexity and the length of time that consumers are exposed to them, according to research published in the International Journal of Advertising.

Data sourced from Digiday; additional content by Warc staff