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Will the banner fly again?

CREATIVE RENAISSANCE

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The OPA announcement proclaimed that the new formats—the fixed panel, the XXL Box and the Pushdown—would “stimulate a renaissance of creative advertising on the Internet.” (All you Michelangelos and DaVincis of Flash, the gauntlet has been thrown down.) Also in March, Google announced it plans a form of behavioral targeting for online display and text advertising that will appear on its own sites as well as those of its advertising partners. Google calls the new program, which is being beta-tested on its partner sites and YouTube, “interest-based advertising.” Instead of simply displaying ads based on the content of the page being viewed, Google's new program will display ads based on an individual's Internet browsing history. Industry analysts believe this move is intended to expand Google's revenue stream beyond search, where growth is slowing, and into online display advertising, which appears poised to grow again. Over the past decade, media technology investment has tended to focus on search marketing. “Online display advertising became kind of a forgotten stepchild,” May said. “As a result, there is now more room to innovate in the display market, and, in doing so, to improve the average revenue earned for each impression served,” May wrote in a recent report. “These improvements, driven primarily by better targeting, will also likely boost aggregate spending in this category, as advertisers moving online begin to get the same tracking and metrics that have made search advertising so appealing.” May doesn't believe that banner advertising will provide the same meteoric growth as keyword search advertising, but he said Google must find new ways to grow its top line in the future. “It is for certain that it will not find this growth or profitability in display advertising,” May wrote in the report. “This is not to say that display advertising will not grow—it will, and will grow well—it just will not be able to match the phenomenal growth experienced by search over the last several years.” In the current economic climate, many marketers and their advertising agencies are focused on using the Web to generate leads through webinars and white papers. But they still see the Web banner ad as a versatile tool that can be used for branding, for aiding keyword search advertising and for generating leads. Two elements working in online display advertising's favor are that its tracking capabilities have been improved and its pricing made more reasonable, said Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research. The banner ad's versatility was also noted in a report by IBM Corp., “Beyond Advertising: Choosing a Strategic Path to the Digital Consumer,” which noted, “Participants that previously focused on delivering either ROI-driven marketing or brand-oriented advertising to the market can now cater to both sets of objectives.” Additionally, a new report from Eyeblaster also touted the synergy of online display advertising: “Display campaigns boost search activity days and even weeks after they end.” Tom Stein, president-CEO of marketing communications agency Stein Rogan+Partners, remains a proponent of Web banners, especially because of their branding capabilities. “Search engine advertising, and white paper syndications and other forms of direct marketing and e-mail marketing—they don't have the same ability to tell those brand stories,” he said. He pointed to a recent Web banner campaign Stein Rogan helped create for BPA Worldwide that included both branding and direct marketing elements. The interactive banner featured a message covered in virtual bubble wrap. “There was audio so you could hear it when you popped the bubble wrap,” Stein said. “It actually felt like people were popping those bubbles.” When the bubbles were popped, the message was revealed: “Now packaging the best print and event audits anywhere with Web site audits at no additional cost.” BPA management said they considered the program a success. Rick Segal, chairman of HSR Business to Business, a marketing communications agency, said his company is a believer in online display advertising and currently has a program in place for Pitney Bowes. Segal said online display advertising has, despite some setbacks, continued to chip away at marketer resistance to Internet marketing. “Online banners have been a battering ram against the marketing mix through three waves since the late 1990s,” he said. “In the late 1990s and in early 2000, after the dot-com crash, it was barely a tap at the door. As we came out of the post-9/11 recession, it was a discernible thump. And now in this recession, the battering ram appears poised to knock the door down.” Some marketers have concerns that OPA's new, larger online display ads may be too intrusive. “It's always a fine line between being annoying and giving the information people need,” said Caroline Riby, media director at Roberts Communications, a marketing communications agency. But banners, despite the rise of search and other lead-generation formats, appear to be here to stay. “We haven't seen any death of display,” said Kathy Sharpe, CEO of interactive agency Sharpe Partners. “There's that old quote form Mark Twain: "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.' ” M
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