Fraud. Viewability. The demise of Flash.

The lowly banner ad is under attack and just about everybody agrees: banner ads are the past but not the future of advertising. But is everybody wrong?

Rick Webb was a brand marketer for twenty years and even though he's an investor now, he has a message from brand managers to all of the people trying to kill the banner ad: "we like banners."

In a blog post, Webb acknowledges that banner fraud exists. And that click-through rates suck. But it simply doesn't matter because brand marketers already know this. So why do they continue to buy them? Webb explains:

We use banners as little billboards now. We use them strategically as incredibly cheap (so cheap) repeat impressions for brand awareness. We know many people don’t see them, we know most people don’t see them. That’s okay. We use them accordingly, and the cost has been adjusted down to make them a perfectly great buy even though most people don’t see them.

He goes on:

We use them to measure the efficacy of campaigns we run our way, using our metrics. We’ll spend a million bucks on a literal f**k ton of banners (I mean, just billions of the things, it’s crazy). And then we’ll do targeted brand sentiment and purchase-intent surveys using our internal peeps, online along with companies like Nielsen and Foresee, and offline with a bunch of (really quite awesome) companies you’ve never heard of. Then we’ll see whether the banners moved the needle, and if they did (and they often do), we’re happy.

In other words, despite all their shortcomings, banner ads do work much of the time and they're a literal bargain for media buyers who are apparently savvier than the media sellers they're doing business with.

Ironically, as Webb points out, it's parties on the sell side that keep devaluing the banner ad. Digital media companies, including some of the most popular social platforms, are hawking countless new ad formats that promise to do everything banner ads can't, and a growing number of ad tech firms are playing up ad fraud and viewability concerns to pitch their solutions.

If Webb is right, however, the efforts of digital media companies and ad tech firms are unlikely to dramatically reshape the internet advertising landscape. If banner ads are as effective as Webb says they often are, they'll remain a fixture on the web. The only question: will media sellers stop dissing them and try to claw back some of the discounts they've built in to the price of the ads nobody supposedly wants?

Patricio Robles

Published 17 July, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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