Digiday recently gathered a whole bunch of ad people — many of whom are friends, so I'll play nice here. (Well, mostly nice.) Then they asked them the question, "Are the days of the banner ad numbered." To which most of them replied, "No," in long-winded, caveated, asterisked and bank-disclosure-like answers about how we need to do banner ads better to save them.
God! This sounds just like the way ad people have always talked about their direct mail brethren. You know direct mail, right? The stuff that no one in their right mind would ever be caught dead doing, and why the hell would you be wasting your career on that crap? You know — the stuff that works.
For years I've listened to the talk-down-their-nose, snide remarks of ad people snorting and sneering about .4% response rate — like you can call that effective! Or they would say, "If we're going to do direct, we're going to do it the right way!" implying that the creatively inferior work was the real cause of these supposedly dismal results that were, nonetheless, generating provable profits.
So here is this article with everyone just assuming that the banner is dead because it's getting .5% response on average and that it needs creative genius or better targeting or any number of new front-end solutions to make it work, without a single person in the group ever mentioning that there's absolutely no legitimate reason for us not to be making millions with that kind of response rate!
The banners aren't the problem with the banners. The problem with banners is that, just like the article, everyone is ignoring the after-click experience.
Imagine you go on a date with a really hot person. Everything about them is perfect. Then you go back to their place, they undress and reveal a web form, and in order to have sex with them you have to fill out the registration dialog box, which once completed will take you back to the restaurant where you first met them, where you can then begin your search anew as they now hide among a large group of Amway sellers who just rolled in from the convention center.
THIS is the problem with banner ads!
You can crow all you want about how we need to employ these cool, new IAB standards to bring banners back from the dead, but if your banner is leading to your stupid homepage you won't be getting that sale. Or sex, for that matter.
Conversion is the issue. And the last time I checked, conversion typically has nothing to do with the ad itself. Clicks are usually just qualified leads. Conversion happens when people make a purchase...from a real person...or on your site....not from your banner ad. And surprise! Response channels are mostly Borked these days, so we're hovering around .001% conversion — which is another way of say we ain't making any damn money.
In the past we could funnel everything into a single call or mail center. Then all the 800 numbers and mail centers fed into a single, manageable and sustainable fulfillement channel. But today, most digital campaigns assume that because the Website is our online presence, we can just throw the traffic there through a redirect and we'll manage it all later. It completely ignores the fact that a web hit isn't a dang business reply card. The web site is a user experience. And it sucks. Like really sucks. I mean, seriously bad.
So please, no more crowing about how banners are dead. We've proven that a plain white envelope with a sticker pulls better than your ad-in-the-mail travesty, and we can also prove that the dancing lady animated-gif banner for debt relief is still pulling quite well compared to your page take-over. I like better creative and targeting as much as the next guy. But I'd also like just once to click on a banner and be taken to the item featured in the ad.
I'd also like to have sex. So call me.