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Get Creative with Banner, CNET's Bonnie tells @d:Tech Attendees

LOS ANGELES — Shelby Bonnie, chairman/CEO of technology news service CNET Networks, came to @d:Tech Los Angeles to praise the banner, not to bury it.

In a most vociferous defense of that much-maligned advertising format, Bonnie told attendees of his keynote session here yesterday that banners were a good branding medium.

“I would value that it is as good as in-store signage,” Bonnie told an audience of 250 Internet advertising industry executives.

Besides pushing for unity among industry executives, he also urged experimenting with the banner's format — largely unchanged for years until the Internet Advertising Bureau, now Interactive Advertising Bureau, introduced larger variants.

“We have good reason to be embarrassed that we didn't change standards,” Bonnie said. “It was an industry that lacked leadership. Problem was, there was a high penalty if you went non-standard.”

Advertising agencies could not comprehend a different banner size, and this created problems. But that did not deter CNET from going ahead and dabbling with larger banners on company properties like News.com.

“We've focused on putting ads in different places,” he said. “Point of that is, we, as an industry, have become too predictable. We've introduced a certain amount of unpredictability [on CNET].”

For instance, the company has toned down color on its site to allow ads to stand out. In another instance, a big banner for Microsoft allows users to browse within the ad without leaving the pertinent CNET Web page. For Gateway, CNET developed a banner that pops up on the top left-hand corner after the user clicks on highlighted key words. The banner gives detailed information on the product researched.

“The testing we've done shows users love this,” Bonnie said. “How do I merchandise my product in some ways at the point of purchase?”

And a banner for Dell Computer is equally creative. Astride the CNET Web page's top right hand corner, clicking on it rolls the banner open with a menu of items.

“This is an effort to distribute larger units in places you'd never expect to see,” Bonnie said.

The Internet, he said, has many advantages over print and television. In fact, it should not at all be compared with TV, but rather the Yellow Pages. The Yellow Pages was active, advertising was useful and contextually relevant. TV, on the other hand, was passive, not contextual, and advertising was in break time — 14 minutes of ads for a 60-minute program. But he admitted that Internet advertising, particularly the banner, was a victim of its own press.

“We were over-hyped, that it was incredible targeting,” Bonnie said. “It was just over-hype. Publishers and advertisers, no one could meet people's high expectations. In general, everybody got too caught up in click-throughs.”

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