MBPT Spotlight: The Era of Standard Banner Ads is Ending — Hopefully

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Our eyes are trained to ignore standard banner ads, which have caused click-through rates to plummet over the years.

On average, 0.10% of exposures to a banner ad actually click through to a brand’s site--and yet, somehow, we remain OK with this.

Of course, clicks aren’t the most important metric as people can still see a banner ad and return to the brand’s site later without clicking. But more than likely, we ignore the banner and move on, focusing on the important content, limiting distractions and browsing more efficiently.

The saving grace for advertisers in this equation could be native advertising. It’s promising for the future of advertising, but most brands are slow to adopt it, being still tied to old ways of messaging.

But native ads—if done well—don’t distract us from our online mission. If we’re reading the news, playing a game or scrolling through Facebook, the ads we see don’t interrupt our experience; they’re part of it. If we’re targeted accurately, we ideally care about the brand’s message and want to share their content.

Yahoo is embracing this change in user behavior and preferences and offering out-of-the-box ad solutions for brands. It’s so different that we’ll have to reconsider how we make creative assets and how we approach media buying. They’re aware their ad revenue is declining so they’re completely changing the model. 

Yahoo is turning their site into a series of “digital magazines”—which are built on Tumblr and combine content with tons of photos, animated GIFs and videos that populate the page in a mosaic of stimulation. It looks like a more impressive Pinterest. They also brought in household-name editors and started a video series for each “magazine.” And of course, native ads appear throughout—where they make sense.

For media buyers, we’ll buy Yahoo native ads the way we buy Facebook ads—uploading an image and copy that dynamically reformats to wherever it serves, whether its within a mobile app, on a tablet or on the desktop site.

Advertisers are wary of native and there’s a lot of talk about native ad disclosure and making sure the ads don’t violate a user’s trust by tricking them into engaging with content they don’t realize is an ad. Interactive Advertising Bureau guidelines say that a consumer should be able to distinguish between what’s paid advertising and what’s editorial content. However, if the content is relevant enough, users will engage with it regardless of whether or not it’s an ad.

Native is also tough to define. Mainly, it’s content ads that appear within the context of the user’s experience. Native can include in-feed units (such as those seen on Yahoo or Facebook), paid-search units (Google, Bing), recommendation widgets (Outbrain, Gravity) and promoted listings (Etsy, Foursquare), among other formats. In other words, it’s the Wild West out there, and the industry is still experimenting to find native standards.

We’re online all the time, looking for interesting news. We want to make sure we don’t miss out on knowing what’s going on in our world—the world that is individualized and important to us. When a brand shows up with relevant, interesting content, we are more likely to care than when the same brand shows a 300x250 box ad that sits next to content we care about.

When a brand targets the right people hyper-locally with tailored content that fits in with its environment, it’s less about advertising and more about sharing and participation. It’s about making a connection rather than collecting clicks, and stronger results follow.

Compared to banner ads, native ads have 4.1 times more views on average and increase purchase intent 18%, according to IPG Media Lab.

We’ve come a long way from the flashing “click now!” box ads of digital media’s past. Now, brands need to get on board and commit to creating relevant content their consumers care about. Many publishers currently selling native are willing to help write this content as added value, so now is a smart time to get on board.

The industry needs to let go of old notions of what a media buy looks like and embrace the new landscape so we can eventually lay standard banner ads to rest.

Piston is a full-service digital agency located in San Diego and New York, which works to create communications between brands and customers based on a deeper understanding of commerce, culture and technology. By connecting these three concepts, Piston builds and tracks brand relationships that span all media, channels and marketing capabilities.

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