For better or for worse, however, the banner is an integral part of the ad ecosystem. And while legacy alone isn't a good enough reason to keep it around, its relative simplicity makes it worth taking a closer look at what digital's first format could -- and should -- be doing. After all, what if the banner isn't broken at all, but misunderstood?
Hanging up on the call-to-action
Clicks (and taps) tell a story about banner performance, but in a world of fat fingers and click fraud, it's neither the full story nor the most useful one. To assert the failure of a campaign -- or the banner in general -- based on this metric is limiting. If we want to tap into the true value of the digital banner, we need to release it from digital's original value proposition, interactivity.
This may sound counterintuitive, but ditching clicks frees the banner to deliver on a more powerful promise of advertising: brand awareness. After all, it's the subliminal influence of the brand logo or tagline that builds familiarity and recognition, not the call-to-action. You can save that for the ads that are designed to support more sophisticated interactivity: larger placements, rich media and video ads.
What brands does the banner serve best?
The banner does its best work at the top of the funnel, serving as a complement to offline and online initiatives. A good comparison might be the branding seen on NASCAR, or in the outfield of a baseball game or a product placement (how many times did Eleven actually tell the audience to purchase Eggo waffles in "Stranger Things"?) The strength of the banner is its subtlety, which makes it most effective for bigger brands, the ones that can afford to be seen and not heard, at least in certain circumstances.
It also plays a crucial role in mobile, where 7 out of 10 media minutes are now spent, according to ComScore. When a consumer isn't in the mindset for a more engaging creative, a rich interstitial or video doesn't perform as well. Plus, it can be perceived as disruptive. In this scenario, particularly common among mobile consumers on the go, the banner serves as "reminder" media -- it helps keep a brand top of mind, recalls earlier messaging, reduces friction and, with lower cost, makes a campaign more cost-efficient. And it does all of this without a click.
Time to break banner habits
Success in the digital landscape requires us to be nimble -- to test, learn and evolve based on those learnings. Yet we've allowed the banner to remained trapped in the identity it was assigned decades ago. The stagnation is creating frustration for every link in the advertising chain: brands, agencies and, especially, consumers.
Before we throw the banner out with the bathwater, though, let's consider what else it can accomplish for each of its stakeholders. This means exploring what environments and moments would prove most effective for brand awareness, identifying how the banner serves the ad-resistant mobile audience, and finding the courage to kick the click-through habit. With this approach, the industry may soon understand that it's possible to get more value from the banner by asking it to do less.