Banners Are the Worst Advertising: Invisible

Bob Hoffman is a partner in Type A Group, an advertising and marketing consultancy. He is also author of The Ad Contrarian blog , and the book “101Contrarian Ideas About Advertising.” Follow him on Twitter @adcontrarian.

This publication recently ran a piece called “5 (Un)Alarming Stats About Banner Ads.” The article was an apologia for banner advertising. This is a clear indication that banner advertising is finally earning the disrepute it deserves — even from those who used to defend it.

The piece starts by giving us some statistics about online display advertising. First, that it will generate $15 billion in revenue this year. Second, that it will grow by 18 percent. Third that Facebook’s revenue grew 80 percent last year, mainly from display. I’m afraid this is not evidence of the effectiveness of banner advertising. It is evidence of the cluelessness of advertisers.

The article then goes on to explain how 5 statistics quoted as evidence of the deficiencies of banner ads are actually points in its favor. I would like to disagree.

1. On overload: “Over 5.3 trillion display ads were served to U.S. users last year… (but) 23.5 trillion TV commercials were ‘served…’”

This is a disingenuous equivalency for a media person to make. TV commercials are not served 7 to a screen. Nor are TV commercials squeezed to the margins of the screen by “content.” While the impact of a TV spot has often been exaggerated, the idea that a banner ad has the equivalent impact is absurd. We are certainly overloaded with TV spots, but that doesn’t mean we are not overloaded with banners.

2. On clutter: “The typical lnternet user is served 1,707 banners each month… (but) the typical U.S. consumer watches 3,200 minutes of TV commercials each month, or about 6,000 TV ads. Still think banners are oversaturating the market?”

Yes, I do. The typical U.S. consumer spends over six times as much time with TV as she does on the web (Nielsen Cross Platform Report, Q3 2012.) In order for TV to be as saturated as the web she would have to see over 10,000 TV spots a month.

3. On effectiveness: The 468 x 60 banner has a 0.4 percent click-through rate… TV spots have a 0.5 percent response rate… Billboards have a lower, 0.3 percent response rate. Radio fares best at about 0.13 percent…”

This is the most disturbing and the most often used defense of banner advertising. It’s the “Nobody Ever Clicked On The Mona Lisa” defense. It is deceitful and irresponsible. TV advertising, billboards, and radio were never meant to be “interactive.” Banner advertising was breathlessly sold to us as an interactive medium – a medium in which there would be a direct, immediate interaction. The fact that we were misled, and that nobody wants to interact with banner ads, is not the fault of TV, billboards or radio.

And, by the way, if you’re going to pretend there’s an equivalency between a click and “response rate,” it would be nice if you defined exactly what “response rate” is measuring.

4. On click rates: “You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. … once the plane has crashed, yes, you are more likely than 4 out of 10,000 to (survive)… But your odds of being on (sic) a plane crash in the first place, in which at least one person dies, is 1 in 3.4 million. Nice logical mistake…”

No, the logical mistake is yours. The premise of this stat clearly states “survive” a plane crash. It says nothing about “being in” a plane crash.

5. On trust: “Thirty-four percent of people don’t trust banner ads at all. Well, 35 percent of Americans think dinosaurs roamed the Earth at the same time as humans…”

I’m not sure what the point is here but, okay, I’ll give you this one.

You don’t have to be an advertising or marketing expert to observe that almost no one pays attention to banner ads. If you doubt this, try to remember even one of the tens of thousands of display ads you’ve been served. Or try to recall the last time you heard anyone talking about that awesome banner ad they saw. Or name me one substantial brand that has been built by banner advertising.

On the whole, banner ads are the worst thing advertising can be — invisible. TV, billboards and radio advertising may be annoying, but they are not invisible.

This does not stop defenders of banner advertising from torturing the data to “prove” to us how effective banners are.

What these people seem not to understand is that the value in advertising is related to its impact. Regardless of how many screens an ad appears on, if nobody notices it it has no value.

The impact of a banner ad? About as close to zero as you can get and still be called advertising.

 Image via Shutterstock