“There are banners that pull and pull big. And while no one has claimed to have found the perfect formula, there are some guidelines that can help your campaign draw 3-5% versus the paltry <1% averages…”
Okay, so we all know that ad banners don’t work. At least not in the traditional sense of delivering a return, that as marketers, we feel is commensurate with our investment. But we continue to try—searching for a strategic or tactical panacea by which we can claim to the world that, unlike theirs, our banners do work.
But again, most don’t. And as we examine why they don’t, the reasons vary from broad strategic miscues to relatively simple executional issues.
Who’s in the click?
In the online world, with our rush to get to market, we tend to forsake a lot of the basics. Target definition, market segmentation and demo/psychographic profiling is the often-neglected first step in assessing opportunities for online advertising. Of course, we wouldn’t do anything offline without all of that (and more). But as prevailing wisdom would have it, the online world is a special place where none of that is necessary. Wrong.
Just as with any other advertising, understanding who your target is, what he or she wants and what drives them to act, is the absolute only hope of buying a strong schedule and crafting messages that catch the click. In fact, the online world demands more, not less, understanding of target behavior—specifically how they behave when they use the Internet. It’s imperative that you put yourself behind their mouse button. You have to know if they’re casual browsers or serious information seekers; if they’re savvy to the ways of the web or newbies searching for instant gratification; and if they care if you’re giving away a toaster oven or not.
What do you want to tell them?
This one’s neglected online and off. It’s the simplest of all the questions, which is what makes it the hardest to answer. Especially since, as a medium, banners demand single-minded communication—sell one thing and sell it strong.
So decide what that one thing is and put it on paper in the form of a campaign strategy. For example: “Tell the target that Pampers is the most absorbent, and hence comfortable, diaper brand for babies” is a possible campaign strategy for Pampers diapers. The campaign strategy should define your most compelling selling proposition from the most compelling angle for your target.
There are cases, primarily where the selling propositions are weak, non-existent, too complex for the medium or unbelievable, where the campaign strategy will be unrelated to what you’re selling. We see this more on the web than offline. For example: “Tell the target that they have a chance to win $100,000 when they click here” could be a strategy in any of these cases.
Whenever possible, narrow your strategy to the same degree that you want to narrow your responses. If you’re advertising a mass-market website looking for eyeballs, then leave it wide open and collect the clicks of the masses. But, if you’re advertising to a vertical or niche market, do yourself and your sales staff a favor—narrow your strategy and messaging to weed out the unwanted clicks before they clog up the works. So where the previous $100,000 contest example would work great for a mass-market promotion, a niche version of it might read: “Tell the target that they have a chance to win $100,000 for their small business when they click here.”
Where are they (really)?
So now we know who they are and what makes their clicking finger twitch madly, but where are they? Not physically—we’re interested in where they are on the web. Although Yahoo! reaches over 50% of the people that use the web, directories and search engines are not necessarily the answer.
There are targets and strategies for which buying search engine keywords for your banners will yield results. But for the most part, look deeper and you’ll find stronger, less costly vehicles for your campaign. The search engines may well end up supplying a piece of your online media plan, but to rely on them exclusively is as foolish as pouring (or more appropriately flushing) all of your offline media dollars into one, untried publication and crossing your fingers.
One could argue that much of the disappointment with banner results stems from this search engine fallacy. Search engines play the role of middle man for information seekers—both casual and serious. Casual information seekers are generally spending disposable time looking for things to do or see on the web; they are newbies and they are susceptible to banners and promotions. You can think of casual information seekers as “browsers”—defined in much the same way a retailer defines the term.
As the information seekers get more serious, they become less susceptible to marketing ploys and frankly will seldom notice your keyword banner (regardless of its bells, whistles and use of skin). Reaching serious information seekers is better accomplished through their destinations versus directories.
Destination sites are generally more credible, more targeted, less costly and more effective in reaching members of vertical and niche markets. With over 2 million sites on the web today (many of which accept paid banner advertising) your choices are mind boggling. And just as there are sources for offline media information and planning, placement opportunities are chronicled at length by Standard Rate & Data Service, Media Mark and others. Click for the iDecisionMaker onlineCompanion and reviews of the strongest interactive advertising resources.
The magic click.
Okay, but how do we get that damn click?
Just as in offline marketing communications, the creative has to be good. But what constitutes “good” is different online.
Banners are an amalgamation of media types. The result is as unique as the Internet itself. The messaging tactics of banner creation meld outdoor, direct response and broadcast. We take the simplicity from outdoor, the immediacy of direct response and the involvement strategies of television. What we get is pretty groovy when done right and an abomination to the sanctity of advertising when done wrong.
So if most banners don’t work, and it’s not the placement or the strategy, then it must be the creative… Yep…
Most banners are too slow and heavy and far too print-like. Most try too hard to dazzle and end up losing the key direct-response message: “Click Here” in the process. Most forget the rules of design. And most just don’t pop.
The trick is to deliver a compelling message, 3-5 tight frames of animation and a clear call to action to “Click Here”—do that all within 10-14k of optimized glory and you’re on your way to the all-elusive click.
There are banners that pull and pull big. And while no one has claimed to have found the perfect formula, there are some guidelines that can help your campaign draw 3-5% versus the paltry <1% averages…
Good ad banner criteria:
If your banner is animated and can’t loop (most Yahoo! placements are restricted this way) you must recap all of the important elements of your message in the last frame (as it will be the only thing that sits there in front of the participant after your six seconds of animated hoopla). If you don’t recap and include “Click Here” in the last frame, you’ll reduce your clicks.
Then there’s the horrific realization that a lot of people won’t notice the first frame of your animation because: (1) nothing has moved yet to catch their attention; or (2) the page may be loading around your banner and the first frame might just get lost in the shuffle. The moral to the story is that your banner will pull less if it depends on its first frame to make its message.
Timing Is Everything
Try to keep your animations to 3-5 frames and definitely under six seconds of total run time. Also on the timing front: look at your banners over a common 28.8 modem—frame timings can be tricky and making them too short will keep your reader from reading—drag them out and your banner feels flat. And a flat banner is a bad banner.
Most (good) portals use blue as their link color. They protect the integrity of the link color with their very lives—if it doesn’t link, it ain’t gonna be blue. This is because Internet participants have been conditioned to identify with blue as the universal interface cue for taking them somewhere. So if blue is the most-clicked color on the web, and we’re looking for clicks, what color do you suppose is proven to generate the highest percentage of clicks for the words “Click Here” at the end of your banner? You guessed it—blue. Anything else will reduce your pull.
This is a hard one. It so depends on the context of a particular placement. But just as you do offline—do whatever the others aren’t. That doesn’t mean you break the rules outlined here. It means if you’re running a standard 468x60 banner and the page background is white, you could make your banner smaller (with a transparent background) and move the frames around within the space. The effect is that your banner is a different size than the rest. It captures attention, draws the viewer in, and gives you the opportunity to make the rest of your case. That’s just one of a myriad of examples. The key is to cut through the clutter, grab eyeballs and get the click.
So go and prove the pundits wrong…
The bottom line is that good banners work and bad ones don’t. Put a good banner in a bad place—it won’t pull. Put a bad banner in a good place—it won’t pull either. But if you define your target, set a sound strategy, plan a solid schedule and create banners to catch the click—you will have banners that pull. No bull.