Maybe it's that 'traditional' creatives want ads to say something; something about the product, about the company, maybe even about themselves -- and say it in a new and original way. The technology folks, on the other hand, find their inspiration in the code behind the ad; perhaps a new twist on animated GIFs or a programming trick never before used in an online ad.
As a result, traditional interpretations of banners seemed too flat to the ones-and-zeros folks, while the tech banners seemed gimmicky and artless. Andrew Leitch, creative director at Agency.com, says that traditional boundaries between creative and strategy are much more ambiguous in interactive advertising. "There's a real gray area between the two, and plenty of areas to ruffle some feathers."
Recently, however, there has been a more sophisticated confluence of the right technology and sharper copy and design. In other words, banner ads finally seem to be emerging from slivers of print ads slapped on Web pages to become their own entity entirely.
In May 1996, Owen Davis, managing director of the Thinking Media Corp., launched what has proven to be a revolutionary campaign for CondeNet's Epicurious site. Pushing the technology behind banners, the campaign was one of the first to truly call for interaction -- a word that is often used, but rarely achieved. One execution, employing a simple HTML search feature, asked users to submit their favorite cooking ingredient and then took them directly to a listing of recipes featuring that ingredient. Wildly successful, the campaign dwarfed the standard 2 percent clickthrough rate. The banner, using HTML, was one of the first to use a search component as part of the creative execution. The designs themselves still looked too much like a Windows pop-up window, but the innovation made good on the possibilities of the medium.
Lesson One: Interactive ads usually ask users to do something -- something that involves clicking. The right technology implementation is as important as great copy or design.
A more recent campaign for Parent Soup, an online magazine for parents, developed by New York-based In2, picked up on the "search" ad and presented it in a much more elegant interface. These ads asked users to type in a subject and then took them directly to relevant areas on the site, bypassing the layers of pages that typically exist between the home page and where users really want to go. One especially effective execution, employing the simple HTML search feature, allowed users to type in a name, then took them to the Parent Soup site and gave the name's genealogy, popularity and so on.
Lesson Two: The idea behind this ad was to help parents choose baby names. But, let's be honest: People's favorite subject is themselves. Wherever possible, give the opportunity to relate directly to users' lives.
Lesson Three: Use Dilbert. Always. Ain't he a riot? Oh yeah, and keep it real and share the love.
Developers are also looking to attract surfers -- make that consumers -- with sophisticated graphics in the banner itself. InterVU, based in San Diego, focuses on delivering high-quality video over the Internet and in banner ads. With recent campaigns for Bud Online, Major League Baseball and a number of feature films, the concept holds great promise. Harrison Ford yelling, "Get off my plane," from a banner for Air Force One is exciting to think about. But, at this point, the bandwidth requirements are intensive and the quality of the streamed video a poor substitution for television.
Lesson Four: Just because you can use video doesn't mean you should. Unless you're offering rare footage of the Loch Ness Monster or of Jerry Springer being assaulted by an irate guest, don't ask users to wait for what is likely to be disappointing video to eke through their modems.
In addition to more compelling creative within the banner itself, ad developers seem to have their sights set on a different dynamic entirely. Rather than the banner being the road sign that directs traffic to sites, the next generation of banners aims to build a sitelet, where users can do everything from sharing information about themselves (usually in exchange for free stuff) to actually making a purchase within the banner.
In fact, companies like San Diego's First Virtual Holdings and The Thinking Media Corp. are already doing these things and milling over all kinds of new incarnations of the banner. Though banners' share of the Web real estate is small (about 10 percent), the technological possibilities, developers maintain,