Banner-Ad Quality Takes a Dive With the Economy

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

By Published on .

Seen a lot of big bellies on the web lately? How about ads you might normally see running on low-ranked blogs popping up on mainstream news sites? Feeling like your credit might be in trouble, even if it's not? I would have the same feeling, judging by how many time trashy appeals for credit-score reports are showing up on high-quality news sources.

I don't have hard statistics but I have observed what seems like fewer and fewer quality Fortune 500 advertisers using banner ads as the economy shrivels. This, despite some signs that online advertising is alive and well.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
In some ways it feels like we're a time warp back to the early 2000s when mainstream brand marketers had yet to invest in digital advertising in a big way. That all ended mid-decade but now it feels like we're back in the dark ages for banners. Still, online ad spending is up, so what's going on here?

The investment may be shifting to higher ground. Some will argue this is cyclical. Brand marketers will be back using banners once ad spending increases. But you can argue the opposite might be true, depending on how long the economy remains in a recession.

Banner ads can have a notoriously low return on investment because of "banner blindness": People have trained themselves to look away from the areas of a page on which ads appear, further reduces their efficacy. They can be decent branding vehicles but terrible for direct response with a 0.1% click-through rate, according to ComScore, and they require a significant investment to really be successful. You need to blanket the web with them. I'm inclined to believe that as marketers look for ROI in these times they will find success through search ads, public relations, e-mail marketing and some, but not all, social-networking programs.

If marketers get comfortable with other tactics beyond display ads -- and the ROI is proven -- then it could spell even more trouble for media companies that depend on banners for the bulk of their revenue. Reduced investment increases inventory, reduces the prices (and quality) and creates a vicious cycle.

So will quality banners be back? Yes, but not likely at the rate of adoption we saw before the economy began to sink. The money will have moved into other areas by then.

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