EDITORIAL: Banners Don't Brand

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Has it occurred to anyone that maybe advertisers' expectations of banners are too high? Why isn't simply creating awareness and possibly getting Net users to take the first small step in the branding process enough?

Consider the following definition:

"On the most basic level, a brand is a name or some symbol or mark that is associated with a product or service to which buyers attach psychological meanings." This is according to Northwestern University's "Kellogg on Marketing," chosen solely because it is the most recent marketing book to cross this desk.

Does psychological meaning get attached to a name or symbol because it's been flashed repeatedly in a small box, possibly with a clever graphic or one-liner? Nope.

And hold the argument that companies pay big bucks to be on race cars and no one clicks on them. Race-car advertising's an endorsement, one more thing banners are not.

What's more, even if a group of Net users shows a higher propensity to visit a site or purchase after having been exposed to a certain banner, that doesn't necessarily mean psychological meaning of any sort is being attached, much less the desired psychological meaning.

But online advertisers' attempts at self-delusion over the banner continue.

AdRelevance recently concluded that branding ads account for 63 percent of all online ads and 54 percent of all impressions (www.dmnews.com/articles/2000-11-27/11748.html).

The study's findings would be more accurate if they concluded that 63 percent of all online ads were created by people who think they're branding.

It would be one thing if these "branding" banners were part of a multi-step process where branding occurs after the click, but that's not the case. Click-throughs are still somewhere around 0.3 percent, and when we do click, rarely do we get rewarded with a clearly related landing page.

So apparently a lot of people think they're creating an emotional bond simply by flashing something across a strip.

At the risk of being an editorial nag to this column's more regular readers, the Internet's promise has always been reaching the right person with the right offer at the right time.

As a result, the branding argument for banners has always smacked of an attempt to get marketers not to look at campaign results too closely. And this is a time when results are the only thing to which online marketers should be paying attention.

Instead of trying to attach some unmeasurable value to banners, why not simply get realistic about them?

Then at least marketers could focus on honing banners' ability to help gather leads and drive impulse purchases, certainly a worthy pursuit.

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