5 alarming reasons banner ads are dying

The banner ad is 22 years old, with a very flamboyant and dare-I-say eye-cancering beginning. I remember surfing the internet in the late 1990’s with a good average of around 10 popups on each page. It was the trend, and as it was new marketers grabbed at the banner revolution with both hands and seemingly haven’t quite lost grip since.The typical internet user was served nearly 2,000 banner ads each month as of 2013, and yet click-through rates were 0.1%.

I mean, come on. Marketers are alarmed at these stats, and yet many continue to bungle through with blacker schemes and bigger budgets to trick people into clicking their ads, mostly accidentally. Yes, consumer attention is moving wholeheartedly to the online realm, but the truth is, building brands and moving product can now be accomplished by more than just buying reach and slinging banners.

If you’ve ever noticed that no one is clicking on your banner ads, no matter the budget you put into how they’re made or how much they’re published all over the web, that’s nothing new. There are very real, and very alarming reasons banner ads are not popular on the web.

Some of the problems with banner ads

1. They’re distracting

33% of internet users find display ads completely intolerable, according to a report penned by Adobe in 2014.

Ad blockers pretty much here to stay and that’s because most people don’t like having distractions in the way of what they’re on a site for. In fact, as of 2017, over 200 million desktop and more than 400 million mobile users installed ad blocking software on their devices. According to a study by Unruly released in 2016, 93 percent of millennials will consider using ad-blocking software. They’re definitely not on a site to look at and click on ads, that’s for sure. (I’m totally guilty as charged on that. No one is divesting me of my AdBlock Plus… even though I make banner ads as part of my living. Irony? Yes. Also guilty. And no, I’ve not been paid to advertise ABP)

Google Chrome in fact now has a built-in ad blocking system that prevents ads that violate their Better Ads Standards from displaying on users’ browser, including but not limited to prestitial and flashing ads as well as auto-starting videos and/or sounds. These new standards aim to improve the web experience of all web users.

better ads standards

Today, the Better Ads Standards consists of 12 ad experiences that research found to be particularly annoying to users. Image Source: Coalition for Better Ads

2. They’re irrelevant

Nowadays there is more of a system to the madness of where ads are placed on sites, but you’ll still find the irrelevant Nissan ad on an auto blog post about a Honda Civic. Or some such. Yet even so, a Nissan ad on an auto blog post about a Nissan is not necessarily going to resonate much more either. They may be reading about features but it doesn’t mean they want to be slammed in the face with a “BUY ME” ad.

No wonder people have become desensitized or have become “banner-blind” due to banner fatigue: most ads don’t offer real value to consumers. Internet users would rather see ads shown to them at the right time, at the right place. To take the example above, they would rather see an ad about a Honda Civic with an interesting incentive on an auto blog post about a Honda Civic than a Nissan ad on a Honda Civic post. It’s all about relevancy.

3. They’re distracting

The previous point brings us straight to the next point: They’re distracting. Like I said, rather than being pummelled with a “Buy now” call-to-action, people would rather read a story (read: a native ad, which looks like a normal blog post) than look at price ads. Why is Buzzfeed so popular? Because stories. Well, sure, it’s not so much advertising as… wait a minute… they’re kinda advertising kpop to their huge audience (this could be referred to as native advertise, which I mention later in the article).

4. They’re invasive

Just think about it. Behind every banner ad is a system tracking you, down to your every move. It’s learning you. It’s learning what you like, where you go, who you talk to. That’s a real privacy concern. I once had a conversation with a man on Twitter who said they’d been seeing a lot of baby toy ads lately, and replied sarcastically “Time to get preggers” or something to that effect, to which his girlfriend went off on me about how she was infertile and they as a couple had decided that was fine and he didn’t even want children all that much to begin with and how insensitive I was, despite my repeatedly admitting it was meant as a joke because how could a man get pregnant (don’t even mention the whole English meaning behind “we’re pregnant”, as a French native speaker that makes no sense to me). Now, mind you, I did not know these people. I believe I originally started following the man’s account because he often talked about the media, and that was that. After that tirade, I unfollowed him because it had left a bad taste in my mouth. But, I digress. The story was about how an invasive ad creepily targeted a man who apparently didn’t care a whit about making babies. Moral of that story? Don’t randomly serve ads to people; they’ll, excuse my French, cut a bitch. Instead, serve real value and your ad (and the marketing sphere) might be perceived more gallantly.

5. They make your site load slowly

No matter how small the file size, the ad comes from somewhere else on the internet. It’s not hosted locally on the site you are viewing. So if there’s a load on the site where the ad is coming from, you’ll have quite the lag on the site you are currently viewing. This makes the user’s experience pretty inescapably horrible, and they’re more likely to click off the site they’re on than to wait for the experience to happen.

Some solutions for banner ads

Keep visuals on your banner ads under control

Yes, I understand you want to fight other online marketers for consumer attention, but the fact is, the simpler, the better. Have a colour scheme of 1-2 colours, beautiful professionally-shot imagery, and slower animations that won’t cause queasiness. Flashing visuals are the quickest way to disillusion users to your brand/product. Not to mention cause vertigo attacks to vulnerable users.

Add interactivity and personalization to your banner ads

Interactive banner ads can be built with “learn more” buttons that reveal more information when tapped, or challenge games where users must drag a lunch box to catch food. 360 experiences like this one are an opportunity for consumers to get a fully immersive feel for the product. Interactive campaigns enjoy longer engagement times, more click-throughs and better brand / product recall, making them some of the best options for building ROI (return on interest).

Moreover, one of the biggest deciding factors behind installing ad blockers isn’t a distaste for ads, but a distaste for ads that are intrusive and irrelevant. The future of banner advertising, then, is customization. Today’s consumers are living in a world that caters to their preferences, like super-relevant “Watch Next” selections on Netflix or build-your-own-combo.

Target your banner ads properly

Conversion rates increase when an ad targets and reaches a consumer actively seeking out a brand or product they are interested in. This is called retargeting. Who’d have thought people would appreciate something that caters to their needs?

On a side note, native ads are viewed 53% more than banner ads. Native advertising is a type of paid media advertising. By definition, it is any paid content that is “in-feed” and therefore non-disruptive, including promoted tweets on Twitter, boosted posts or videos on Facebook, and editorial-based content on industry- or subject-relevant blogs.

In conclusion

If you’ve started realizing that you are getting less and less traffic from calls to action in web banner ads, it’s time to start questioning yourself: is all the money I’m pouring into this avenue worth it? Think about it: more and more users are getting fed up with banner ads and getting rid of them in a very drastic way by installing ad-blocking software on their browser so they’re not bombarded anymore and have a more fluid browsing experience. Moreover, they are often irrelevant to the viewer who anyway is searching for a different product. They’re also distracting to the eye, pulling the viewer away from what he wants to read or look at in the first place. They’re invasive: they track you, they learn about you, they want you to click them in order to make them disappear. Lastly, they make sites load incredibly slowly.

There is a saving grace to banner ads, when they are visually rich, interactive, and well-targeted.