Banners, Online Advertising, and Branding

Banner advertising can be controversial. For some time now we have been told that banners are a thing of the past. Well, fortunately there are plenty to be seen around wherever you go on the net. It would be a dull place without them.

What Are They Doing To Banners?

From time to time we have been told that traditional pictorial banners are passé, that nobody clicks on them anymore, that people regard them as money-grabbing, blatant, “advertising hype”. We’re told that by far the best banner ads are the wolves in sheep’s clothing – the banners that cunningly disguise themselves to look like a piece of text or a drop-down box, and not like a banner at all. The story is that everyone who is anyone is churning these out by the ton and making an absolute fortune from using them in their advertising.

Well – surprise – it doesn’t take too long to recognise these banners for what they are. This is not to say that they may not be very effective used in the appropriate place – but that’s not everywhere.

Recently, I read an article about the use of banners as advertising inserted within text, and the great click-through rates they generated. These were “banners” only in the sense of being gifs or jpegs. They were not pictorial in any way. They were designed to fit totally seamlessly into a page of text, with a couple of lines of text and a link on them. They were advertising that was trying not to look like advertising. With respect, calling these “banners” is simply playing games. Because they look exactly like text, they are getting the click-through rate of any piece of text in a page. Comparing their results to pictorial banners is like comparing oranges with apples.

Why Pictorial Banners Top The List

There are two factors that the anti-traditional-banner argument doesn’t take account of:

Firstly, the pictorial banner is brilliant for promoting the advertiser’s own branding. No word banner can come even close to evoking whatever ambience the advertiser desires, let alone make a unique statement about who the advertiser is. If you doubt me, take a quick look at some of the beautiful artwork created for the Casinos – ambience by the gallon. Would a two-line text ad do the job as well?

Secondly, there are people on the net, and not a few of them, who are actually looking for things – dare I say it, even looking to spend money. For these folk the right graphic may be no less than a godsend. Would a text banner catch the eye and jog the memory as well as a graphic? Would it evoke that “Oh, that’s the people I’m looking for!” response? You bet not!

Here’s another thing – does the text banner give you any concept of the quality of the business that lies behind it? Hardly!

The fact is that online advertising is really not all that different in principle from advertising in the rest of the world, as some of the truly successful Internet marketing gurus have pointed out. So it stands to reason that the same precepts of good advertising still apply. It comes down to branding – creating a presence that can be instantly recognised by the customer. When all’s said and done the first step of that process is very often visual.

Making the Most of Banners

With Internet advertising, we have in our hands the most brilliant promotion medium ever, in terms of both quantity and quality – something very special happens to images and colors when shown on the screen with the light behind them. We need to make the most of that.

For those who persist in talking derisively about “eye-candy” – let them eat dry cracker biscuits. I say they are missing a whole vast arena of appeal to the buyer via the senses. Most of us respond instantly in real life to “the look of things”. There may be some blessed mortals for whom the printed page means everything, but don’t count on them making up the bulk of the hordes you hope to have beating a path to your website.

Fortunately, as Internet technology advances, we can make the most of the visuals and, within reason, we should do just that. This is as competitive a world as the “real” one – maybe more so. The need is for very high-quality graphic and conceptual design in all areas of advertising and Internet marketing.

A business can cash in on this opportunity, primarily in its own website and emails, and secondarily on the Billboards of Cyberspace – with the quality of its banner advertising. People may not click on banners every time they see them, any more than they follow up every ad that catches their eye in a magazine or on television. But if the advertisement is visual and memorable, if it creates the right “feel”, and if the exposure is repeated and reinforced, when the time comes for them to buy, they will know exactly what and who they are looking for.

Will a two-line text ad or a drop-down box do that for you?