The X Factor: The risky business of ad banners

by

The
way most agencies conceptualize banner ads is seriously flawed. The
internet is a fundamentally different consumption medium than TV, so
wake up!

Amazingly, it appears as if the entire industry has forgotten how
consumers interact with advertising. The isolation bubble of mediocrity
surrounding agencies and clients has become so pervasive that a thought
loop rarely circles most people’s squishy skulls. How did this happen
and why? At which point did the process become so removed from the
consumers’ interaction with our product that we lost touch with them?
The result? The proliferation of banner advertising so removed from the
consumer that it’s amazing half these people still have their jobs.

Why does the internet ad banner suck? Well, let me tell you why — then I’ll tell you how to mitigate what’s wrong with it.

How can I bust on the most highly successful form of display
advertising and the form that supports almost everyone in this industry
outside the search space? It’s simple. The ad banner is the bane of my
existence, the thorn in my side, the blinky-blinky dancing mortgage guy
of my nightmares.

It’s not the format that’s flawed. Well, scratch that, the format is
flawed, but it’s not like there is really anything better to do to
accommodate advertising on web pages currently. But I’ll explain that
later.

It wasn’t the IAB that screwed up. It wasn’t some technology. It was
all of us. (Well, maybe not me.) But it’s all the traditionally minded,
storyboarding, “fit a commercial in a banner” thinking creative morons
and their clients. I’m not talking about rich media or those formats
that allow more immersive experiences. But even there, the creative
luddites usually use those formats to just extend their incompetence.

Here is how the process usually goes. If the agency is bad, and the
client is stupid, the agency prepares a brief based on client input,
ideates on that brief, and then pitches creative ideas based on that
brief. It is then reviewed by the client, feedback is given, and maybe,
or maybe not, a banner gets created, leading to a whole slew of
revisions, changes and approvals. To create what? A friggin’ ad banner.

My issue with that is there are so many problems with the
traditional process that has been adapted for online that I almost
don’t know where to start eviscerating the idiots who still create
banners that way.

First, the way most agencies conceptualize creative for banners is
flawed. Most are trying to tell a story in 15 seconds. Why is that
flawed? The internet is a fundamentally different consumption medium
than TV. TV is interruptive and linear in consumption: content,
content, content, commercial content. Banners, by design, are immersed
in the chaos of content. If the consumer even notices the banner, it is
a second here or there — only snippets of the communication message.

So how do clients review that banner when they approve it? As if
it’s the only thing that exists in the world on an empty screen. It’s a
fallacy of the entire ideation, production and approval process.

So, what do you do? Stop creating stories. No one reads banners. The
point and purpose of any banner must be delivered in three seconds at
any point in the banner. Tall order? Sure it is.

What else? Stop reviewing banners in isolation as if that’s what the
consumer sees. You need to set up a mock page of a real website and
have the client review creative work there, full of content,
distractions and all. In fact, create three different types of mock
sites. It is not the agency’s job to impress the client with its ad,
it’s the agency’s job to deliver real-world interaction with it. Those
agencies that do gain the trust of their clients for being able to
think beyond their own myopic interests.

Second, have your logo on every frame of the banner, or risk the
consumers never noticing who you are. Remember, they are not on that
page for your ad but for the content, and in their brief glance at the
ad space, they better know who you are.

Third, animate your logo. Companies often do it in TV. Stop adhering
to logo guidelines set down by the logo cops. Those rules are holdovers
from the print production world, but for some reason clients and
agencies just keep following them as if they were rules, not
guidelines. Don’t go wild and wreck the logo’s integrity, but keep to
its spirit.

And finally, fix your process of producing online banners! Stop
wasting money. No single banner is going to fundamentally change the
client’s business the way a single commercial can gain emotional
resonance. The process makes sense for TV due to the high production
costs associated with the end product, but for a banner? You’re wasting
valuable time and resources, repeatedly.

How do you fix it? Well, one way is to have the agency just do
weekly concepts. Give them the uber brief of who you are as a brand and
the themes they should be concentrating on. And then each week, choose
the ones that will go into final production.

Also, cut down your approval process internally. If you have to go
up and down three levels at the client side for each banner, you’ll
never get anything done. Oh yeah, that’s what your stuck with now,
isn’t it? Look, unless you can throw enough stuff up at the wall,
you’ll never start to find that breakthrough creative. It should be
your consumers who determine what resonates. As long as the creative is
on message, let them do so.

A few things will happen with that process: You will get much more
work out of your agency, in fewer hours and cost, and you will be able
to improve your performance.

Why these suggestions? Well, they all point to the fundamental flaw
in the format itself. It’s not interuptive but peripheral, and it
requires different techniques.

You all have to start looking at how the consumer interacts with the
pages your advertising is on. Stop assuming you’re smarter than your
consumer, and for Pete’s sake, stop treating this like offline.

None of these suggestions are magic pixie dust, but I think maybe
you have all snorted the magic pixie dust of incompetence for too long
and I’m sick of it. It’s time to start understanding this medium.


iMedia Connection: The X Factor: The risky business of ad banners

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