The Unclear Future of the Banner Ad

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Is the banner ad finally dead? It’s question that we’ve been asking ourselves recently, and it seems especially relevant as, here at McBru, we’re neck-deep in 2015 media planning for our tech B2B clients.

A recent article in the New York Times asserts that whether or not banner ads are dead today, they are certainly on their way out; a welcome development in the eyes of the author. The article goes on to discuss the ways in which the banner ad is “…one of the most misguided and destructive technologies of the Internet age…” While the author admits that may be an exaggeration, it certainly gives a clear indication of his stance.

What about these ads is so offensive? At a high-level, they obstruct the content on the page, making it cluttered and less user-friendly. Not to mention their high-volume, low-cost pricing structure is unsustainable. We’ve also noticed a dramatic shift in the media landscape lately. Trade publications are either consolidating or disappearing completely, making the opportunities to find just the right channel for banners ads even more challenging than ever.

But what does this mean for the future of tech B2B banner ads? Is it time to cut all banner ad budgets and find new ways to reach our audiences? Not at all! We do, however, need to be thoughtful about our approach to the shifting landscape. Let’s think about what aspects of banner ads are still useful and provide a positive impact. One of the larger campaigns we run here at McBru uses banner ads as a traffic driver to microsites that drive leads. Banners drive traffic, traffic drives leads, leads drive sales. There’s a little secret sauce in there, but you get the idea. If you’re like us, you’re not quite ready to abandon something that’s currently working well for your program. That does not mean it’s OK to stay stagnant, though.

The shift away from traditional banners coupled with the shrinking media landscape means it’s time to get creative with your media spend. Recently, we’ve been looking into several new approaches:

  • Programmatic Ad Buying: One of the great mysteries we’ve been unraveling here is what is programmatic ad buying? Is it real-time buying? Is it retargeting? Or is it all of the above? In an AdWeek article, AOL CMO Allie Savarino Kline encourages us to “…think about programmatic as using data, tech and software for getting more for every dollar spent…” In other words, data about both site activity and audience behavior is combined so media buyers can instantaneously place the right ads on the right sites.
  • Retargeting: In general, retargeting refers to instances in which an ad follows you from one site to another. With several types of retargeting available, we tend to favor search retargeting; someone searches a term relevant to you or your client and an ad related to that search term appears on another site that user visits. This article from Search Engine Watch gives a great high-level overview of different types of retargeting. When it comes to retargeting, our philosophy is the more targeted, the better.
  • Native advertising: At the beginning of this year, we started hearing a lot of buzz around this term. Native advertising looks a lot like the content on a site, but it’s sponsored. If you’ve visited Buzzfeed lately, you’ve seen native advertising. With native advertising, the most important factor to remember is relevance; is your sponsored content relevant to the other content on the site?

Have you been experimenting with digital advertising outside of the traditional banner ad? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences!

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