Don't Downgrade Creative in Banners

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I constantly read advice about how to make a successful banner advertisement. I don't remember ever seeing so much printed advice about how to make a successful television commercial or print ad.


It seems that everybody already understands that the best television and print advertising comes from strong creative teams who know how to communicate a single, simple message to people on a compelling and emotional level.


The problem is, the top creative people in advertising don't really want to work in online advertising. Why? If you were out shooting huge vista photographs for a print campaign or writing humorous 30-second commercials for television, would you want to find yourself trying to create something compelling in a space that is eight times as wide as it is high and so limited in file size that it can't accommodate your best ideas? As a result, many banner ads are built by junior creatives, inhouse designers or online Web site consultants. Yet we wonder why banner ads are getting ignored.


Ann Green, a top researcher, wrote: "The fundamental criterion for success or failure is the creative. Tests using ads of the same type -- banner ads, for instance -- with the same objective in mind indicate that performance across dimensions such as recall, communication and persuasion varied significantly due primarily to the creative treatment."


If you want to improve the creative treatment, you have to improve the space in which the creative can live. Luckily for the online advertising industry, this is happening. The Interactive Advertising Bureau adopted new advertising formats that I think will spell the end to banner ads. In particular, the large rectangle combined with a larger file size that uses an initial download and several subsequent downloads is a format that can really get a good creative team's juices flowing. Keep in mind, the ad size and file size are not the answers; it is the creative treatment performed in that new format that will be the key to success.


Many Web sites are slow to implement these new formats, considering them too intrusive. They repeat the mantra, "We don't want to interrupt the user's experience." I wonder what would happen to a program director at a TV station who decided to no longer run commercials because they don't want to interrupt the viewer's experience?


What is true about television is true for the Internet, even though the style of advertising is different. When viewers see a bad commercial, they head for the kitchen or channel-surf until it is over. However, when confronted with a commercial with strong creative treatment that engages them, they sit back and enjoy it for 30 seconds.


On the Internet, even when people are searching for information and find an interactive opportunity that engages and entertains, they are willing to invest 30 seconds or more -- just enough time to get them to interact with a clever message that will make them feel like buying a product. I didn't say click, I said feel like buying a product.


Clicking is a new direction, not a short interruption. So you're better off having the space to deliver a compelling message right then and there for the short amount of time you are able to interrupt. That doesn't mean you won't be able to get a direct response, because if your ad is compelling enough, you can get up to a 10 percent response, as we have seen from some of the large-format ads that use sound and motion.


What's exciting is, you will get more than that. Jupiter Media Metrix released a report that said, "Online branding abilities deliver a 25 percent to 35 percent higher return on investment than using standard direct marketing metrics."


Oddly, only 15 percent of online marketers are doing online branding measurement. That surprises me because my partner was doing a branding campaign more than two years ago, and back then it was called a campaign that "shows how to make Internet advertising work." (By the way, they weren't using standard banner ads). Yet 85 percent of the marketers are still ignoring the effects of online branding.


I'm not saying that Internet advertising is the same as TV advertising. We all know it's not. However, according to Harris Interactive, an independent market research firm, online Superstitial ads can rival the brand recall, viewer acceptance and persuasive capabilities of TV commercials. These are the kinds of formats that work if the right creative people are behind them.


Beware of the easy misuse of these new formats. When I was producing 30-second commercials, we educated the client on the power of one simple, focused message within the ad. Surprisingly, I see banner ads that try to say two or even three things in three lines and three seconds. Then, I see different ads for the same company all communicating different messages with no continuity. These are obviously not being crafted by people who understand the power of building many different creative treatments that all result in one consistent message like the "Got Milk" campaign.


If banner ads don't go away, they certainly will be left as support units for the more engaging rich media formats that talented creative people will use to deliver strong messages that build a passion for a product. By the way, new research published in the summer issue of the Gallup Management Journal shows that customers develop emotional, even passionate, ties to an extremely broad range of products and services.


I strongly believe that the Internet is an exciting ad format with a tremendous amount of unused potential for connecting people with brands on an emotional and passionate level. Use a format that allows the opportunity to communicate better, hand it over to creative people who know how to convey that message on an emotional level, then target the right audience at the right time and watch your online campaign connect.


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