There’s been much chatter around the blogosphere of late about that most humble of advertising formats, the banner ad. The debate began heating up after respected London ad creative Rob Messeter wrote a thought provoking post entitled ‘Digital and the Emperor’s new clothes’ for the British advertising blog Scamp.

Shooting straight from the hip, Messeter opened his piece with, “I know its the future and everything, and everyone seems to be wetting themselves with excitement over it (particularly marketing people), but is it me or is most online advertising really pony?”
The thing is, he wasn’t just having a go at the ridiculous flashing banners and annoying pop-up ads that we all despise. He was questioning the quality of thinking in online advertising as a whole.

Can’t say as I blame him to be honest. I mean, when was the last time you were sharing a drink with friends and one of you asked, “Did you see that great banner ad on such and such a website the other day?” Probably never, I’d imagine.

Personally I think banners are one of the great missed opportunities of the advertising world. You hardly ever see a truly great one. When I posed the question why this was on my blog Brand DNA recently, the first answer I received was this:
“The reason there are no great banner ads is because its a crap little medium and consumers hate them, and rightly so. The creative opportunity is very, very limited. Thats why anyone with talent wants nothing to do with them.”

The person behind that rant preferred to remain anonymous. Rob Messeter, however, was more than happy to go on the record with his thoughts.

In his savage critique of a series of award-winning banners for a high profile UK brand, Messeter claimed, “If I presented anything so woeful to my creative director hed laugh me out of the room.”

He then went on to say, “I think we all need to get some perspective. Digital is still relatively in its infancy. As time goes on I’m sure we will begin to see more maturity in the work.”

Can’t argue with that logic, although let’s not forget the internet is hardly new enough to still be considered new media any more.

Robin Grant from UK interactive agency, CMW, also weighed in to the debate, by posting Messeter’s piece on the Brand Republic blog, sparking this comment credited to Mark Bower:

“I do think Rob has a point, to be honest. There often doesnt seem to be a great deal of insight behind some of this stuff.” He then went on to add, “It’s good to see the investment in digital continuing. Im certain that as the market matures we will start to see higher quality [work] emerge.”

Meanwhile back over at the Scamp blog, the comments were starting to mount up, with most of them agreeing with Messeter. One that didn’t, argued that digital advertising should be judged on the audience it has attracted.

Fair enough I suppose, although this kind of argument can often unwittingly backfire. I was working on a banner campaign a little while ago, and the brief included the response rates from the previous campaign – a paltry 0.15 percent.

That’s 0.15 not 1.5, which is surely around two thirds of bugger-all in real terms. Having said that, if a million people took a look at the web page where the banner ran, a very respectable 1500 people would have clicked on it.

Now 1500 people expressing interest in a product is not to be sniffed at I suppose, but, even so, 0.15 percent response can hardly be considered a success. If I was a marketer I’d be demanding answers from my agency if their work was pulling these kinds of figures.

Perhaps these low response rates are, as Rob Messeter claimed, because most online advertising is pony. Apparently not, according to a comment on Scamp from someone calling himself Flipper. “More and more clients are seeing how much more effective digital advertising can be over so called ‘traditional’ techniques,” says Flipper. He then goes and undermines his argument by claiming to be, “Very passionate about not wrecking the web with bloody advertising.”

Oops! Not exactly the kind of thinking you’d expect from someone employed to create advertising for the web. And therein, I believe, lies the root of the problem. Most online ads are created by people who are not advertising creatives.

To put this whole debate into perspective, I’ll hand over to yet another anonymous blog commentator: “Banners are annoying and intrusive and represent the old advertising model of interrupting consumers. When was the last time you welcomed seeing one? Its time to move on from animated print ads, which is what banners are. The internet offers far richer ways of connecting with people. Banner ads = boo!”

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