From billboard to banner ad

The year was 1994. The day was 27 October. The site was, a now long defunct online offshoot of Wired magazine. And what happened would change marketing forever, with just 10 easy words (copywriters, take note):

Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? YOU WILL

And people did. In their droves. It was the first ever banner ad – launched as a response to Wired looking for a new way to generate revenue and pay writers for having their work appear on a digital platform. AT&T bought the space for $30,000 and in the course of the four months that followed enjoyed a click-through rate of 44% – a number that would today be cause for mass celebrations among marketers, who’d be pretty psyched with anything above 0.08%.

Today, we see digital ads as pretty ubiquitous (and pretty annoying, if we’re honest). It takes something pretty well targeted and creatively on point for anyone to click. But that shouldn’t detract from their importance as a marketing tool when done right, and why they came about in the first place.

Tearing down the billboard

 Well, not really. As the more keen-eyed among you will have noticed, there are still a few billboards about. And they’re a valuable part of major marketing campaigns. Where they fall down is with the analytics, the cost, and the ability to understand how many people have interacted with an ad.

This is changing – at least in part. For example, in 2016 TFL trialled a phone tracking system which would help it to ‘demonstrate customer journey pattern volumes’ (or rather, how many people are stopping to look at that advert about another bloody mattress). But that’s still some way short of the data that can be derived from a good digital campaign, with marketers able to learn a lot more about who engaged, why, and when. And they can tweak their message if things aren’t working as they might like.

All of which begs the question: why are so many digital adverts so bad?

Ban-AAARGH advertising

  • It’s intrusive.
  • It’s annoying.
  • It’s irrelevant.

A fairly recent study found that 51% of people think websites should feature fewer ads, and when asked what advertisers should do to improve their online experience most people suggested fewer pop-ups.

Basically, it’s hard to create digital advertising that doesn’t annoy or alienate a lot of the people you want to see it and engage with it. Which explains the somewhat dramatic drop in CTR numbers between the mouse-click-bait of 1994 and today. But it’s wrong to think that the medium can’t be done well.

Get your CTR up to 44%!*

  1. Grab and go

    Unfortunately, no one is visiting The Guardian to see your digital ads. The sooner you make your peace with that, the happier you’ll be. So, to be effective, you need to grab your audience’s attention and get the message across sharpish.

    Oddly, to do this well it pays to think of billboards again. Imagine you’re driving past your copy at 70mph. You need a concise, well-constructed message that can be conveyed in max five words. And all of that copy needs to tap into wider campaign messaging that’s consistent with the landing page and content you’re directing people to.

    This is damn hard to do, so give yourself plenty of time (or speak to the experts *cough*).

  2. Think visually

    You’ve not got many words to work with. So you need to use the space you have wisely, with effective design and branding.

    Don’t let your ads become busy with too many elements, because people just won’t see most of them. And remember, it’s not all about clicks. Like any ad, this is a chance to put your brand in front of people. Even if they don’t engage, something about your ad might register.

    On which – animated ads have a higher engagement rate than static. So it’s always worth thinking about introducing a little movement into your marketing.

  3. Hit your target

    Sure, it’d be great to have your brand seen by millions of people. But if most of them don’t care then you’re not going to be getting great results.

    You can make digital advertising an active, useful part of an inbound strategy with more considered and informed targeting. Part of this is figuring out what you’re after: leads, awareness, conversation? Each will require a slightly different creative and strategic approach.

    Then it’s about tools. With the right ones (and the right advice) you can serve ads to people who might actually want to see them, directing them to content they might actually want to engage with it.

    Depending on your objective you can also choose to re-target people who’ve already showed an interest in your product or services. Or, you can reach new audiences for brand awareness by targeting them based on their overall online behaviour and interests.

  4. Get social

    Organic reach is on its backside, according to HootSuite. So it pays to know how to get your ads in front of the right people and make any investment you’re putting behind them work hard.

    Social platforms are worth a thought here. Not only is there a decent chance that you’ll get your ads in front of people who are directly interested in what you’re saying, you can also use the various tools offered by Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. to optimise your efforts.


*This is basically impossible