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The X Factor: Why banners fail

Posted by Mort Greenberg on May 20, 2008

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Published: May 20 2008

If the media biz is a jungle, banner ads are cowardly and camouflaged. Try a plan of attack that goes in for the kill.

I just ran into a series of roadblocks on The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and I was thinking: Are they just bad banners times two, or is there something more to this format that offers value to advertisers?

Well, I know the answer because I have run multiple campaigns for multiple brands over the years, but I’ll make you wait for that. First, let’s define what they are, and what they are not. I’m tired of hearing people use terms loosely in our industry. Precision is necessary for understanding. Without it, we’d all be monkeys poking each other with sticks. Actually, when it comes to understanding internet advertising, many people still are. Well, maybe they’re not even that good. How about “flesh pods with arms.” That’s a little more accurate. Alas, but I digress.

If you come to a site, and before you enter the site, you have to sit through an ad, that is an introstitial. If you are on the site and have to sit through an ad when going to a different section, that is an interstitial. But, if you are on a page and all the ads on the page are from the same advertiser, that is a roadblock. I often hear people in the industry group these three together and it only creates confusion for those flesh pods with arms.

So, why would an advertiser use a roadblock? First, the problem with banners. You may know my views on the banner format from my previous rantings, but is the roadblock any better? Or are you just flushing double your money down the drain? Well, it all depends on your business model and your objectives. Wow, that’s a cop-out and a bit MOTO (master of the obvious). I’ll explain whether they are useful, to what businesses, and how — after a bit of an explanation of the overall failings of the banner.

One of the greatest failings of the banner format is that it is peripheral to the content and not interruptive. We all evolved as predators, regardless of what the leaf-chewing members of our populace think. Why is that relevant? Well, evolutionary biologists will tell you that predators evolved with peripheral vision that picks up movement better than what’s right in front of you. And, it picks up ticks in movement and changes in speed better than smooth, clean movement.

Where are banners located? Ah, now you’re starting to get it — Have. The. Banner…….[pause] React. [pause] [pause] [pause] Move. [pounce] Like it’s stalking prey. The consumer’s eye will instinctively glance to see what it is. Don’t be impressed with your smooth, animated banner approved in isolation of the consumer. It looks nicer but will not achieve your main objective: the attention of the consumer.

What a roadblock does is focus that attention. There are many sites like The New York Times and The Washington Post that offer compelling roadblock experiences. On the Times, you can buy two-hour blocks of roadblocks. On rich content sites, it’s even more important to capitalize on peripheral focus due to the engagement of the user to the content, in the center of the page.

It’s a very effective strategy depending on your business model. Ok, there is the cop-out again. Let me explain a simple way to approach it. If you’re a click-based business doing direct response to drive people into a funneled sales experience, then often a roadblock will not provide the delta increase in your clickthrough rate necessary to justify the additional cost.

However, if you supplement that advertising with single banners on the site and look at the combined effectiveness, you will often find that you get a significant increase in overall response rate. If you are a business that believes that view-through has value, you can prove that a roadblock is a far superior format for your business to a single banner for accomplishing your goals. An impression, remember, does not mean that the consumer ever saw the ad, it just means that the ad server delivered the “opportunity” to see an ad.

Roadblocks dramatically increase that opportunity beyond the additional cost required. Remember, aim for peripheral focus in your ad creation and increase the effectiveness of your campaigns. Don’t create ads that annoy us.


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