Marketers Should Reconsider Banner Ads, Use Widgets

Need to Spark the Conversation as Ads Become Increasingly 'Two Way'

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Over the next several years it's going to get harder to reach the most influential online consumers through an Internet advertising staple: the banner ad. "What?" you say. "That's heresy. The IAB just reported first-quarter online ad revenue hit a new high of $3.9 billion." Dig deeper, however, and you will find there is a tectonic shift quietly taking place.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

Slow growth at top sites
Audience growth at most of the top sites is slowing. According to a recent comScore Media Metrix report, Yahoo is still the largest site on the Web but its audience is growing at an anemic 5%. The same is true for the other top portals, with the exception of Google.

At the same time, people are flowing in droves to sites where they can create, share, connect and consume content published by their peers. That same April comScore report found that over the past year traffic to sites such as MySpace, Citysearch, Wikipedia, Blogger and others skyrocketed by at least 200% apiece, while total U.S. Internet audience grew only 4%. In addition, a study published last week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 35% of Americans have posted content to the Web -- what Thomas L. Friedman in "The World of Flat" broadly calls "uploading."

Picture-in-picture advertising
So as the Web audience shifts and becomes peer-to-peer, brand marketers need to consider reinventing how they use banner ads. One solution is what I call picture-in-picture advertising, a sort of social-media interpretation on the traditional ad unit.

Picture-in-picture advertising is analogous to the eponymous feature common on every modern TV set. Think of it as little widgets or windows integrated into a site that help consumers seek out relevant conversations and services. It's a transformative idea but one that's necessary in a world where people trust and seek out each other more than they do institutions. Already there's some early experimentation.

Recently Paramount Pictures and blog search engine Technorati unveiled a conversational advertising campaign to promote Al Gore's new documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." Rather than push people to a more static movie site, Paramount created a destination that aggregates all of the latest blog conversations around the movie and related issues and encouraged people to participate in conversations about global warming.
The Travelocity widget.
The Travelocity widget.

Developing widgets
Picture-in-picture advertising can be used to place ads on blogs that encourage conversation. TypePad, one of the leading blog publishing platforms, has a stock of widgets that bloggers can easily integrate to their sites. So far user-generated content sites like Squidoo, Rojo, Webshots and others are creating the widgets, but there's no reason brand marketers couldn't do the same.

Over the next several months we're going to see a lot of marketers creating little widgets for consumers to integrate into the sites and services they use often. Will consumers opt in? Maybe, maybe not. The key to picture-in-picture marketing is to make these gadgets totally irresistible and engaging so that people will want to roll them into a blog or a personalized start page.

Consider some early examples: Intel PR streams press releases to the Google Personalized Home Page. Meanwhile, Travelocity has a started a similar initiative that lets people search for flights, cars and hotels right off of Windows Live.

After all, to succeed in a world where consumers are the editors, publishers, influencers, mavens, connectors and salespeople, forget one-way advertising. The future is creating ways for consumers to seek out conversations. And picture-in-picture advertising is one way to accelerate it. ~ ~ ~
Steve Rubel is a senior marketing strategist and author of, and senior VP in Edelman's me2revolution practice.

CLARIFICATION: The original version of this column did not disclose that Technorati is a partner and MySpace is a client of Mr. Rubel's employer, Edelman
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