Today marks the 15th anniversary of the display ad. The first banner ads were run on Hotwired.com (the first digital offshoot of Wired magazine) on October 27, 1994. And according to advertisers and marketers at Digiday’s DPAC4, display advertising is ready to rise again.

After being battered by search advertising and dwindling click-through rates, display ads are experiencing a resurgence of sorts. At the Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference in New York on Tuesday, speakers on The State of Display II panel were in agreement that display ads are back. 

For years, publishers and advertisers have been noting that display ads do not achieve the returns of search. When it comes to click-through rates, display falls far short. But a growing movement of online marketers have come around to the idea that click-through rates are not the proper way to measure display ad effectiveness. Display ads increase brand awareness, grow brand searching and even increase sales. But none of those things necessarily need to happen through direct clicks.

And yet, as the recession progressed, display click-throughs have plummeted even further. But as Kathryn Koegel, strategic marketing practive lead at Primary Impact, points out, that’s not really the fault of display ads online: “classifieds are dragging numbers down.” The economy has slowed the growth of all advertising. But combining display and classifieds in publications’ earnings has hurt display’s reputation.

The New York Times reported this fact in January when releasing revenue numbers:

“In the fourth quarter, Internet advertising revenues included in the News Media Group were down 3.2% compared with the 2007 fourth quarter, as declines in the online classified categories offset modest growth in display advertising.”

But rather than dismiss the impact of display on brand campaigns, the panelists at DPAC4 think it’s all about measurement. According to Jon Gibs, VP of media analytics at Nielsen Online, “one of the largest problems we have as a medium right now is that we’ve chosen to measure ad impressions.” Meanwhile things like dwell time and brand recognition go unnoticed. 

Lynn Bolger, EVP of advertising solutions at comScore, says: “there is a wider demand for tools to relate the value of online advertising to offline advertising.” Accordingly, focusing on an inherently trackable, but non-inclusive measurement like clicks is a step back in the wrong direction.

The panelists were all confident that the influence of display will only grow in the coming year. But they aren’t the only ones who expect an uptick in display. Google and Yahoo are stepping up their efforts in the space. And according to the Wall Street Journal, many tech companies are betting on some recovery in online advertising and ramping up their marketing spend.

Recounting how far display has come in the past 15 years, Frank D’Angelo writes in AdAge:

“The display banner is the impetus to the creation of the online
advertising category that will reach beyond $24 billion in 2009,
according to eMarketer. Perhaps more important, no other development
since has advanced advertising measurement, effectiveness and
accountability than the display banner.”