Beyond the Click-Through: Revisiting Web Banners as Billboard

I used to hate web banners with a passion – not the kind that sit at the top of the page or to the side, but the ones that literally scrolled across the text I was reading. These are perhaps the dumbest form of interruption marketing I can think of. If you really want to tick someone off into not buying your product or service, this is a great way to go. Essentially you’re saying: “We know what you were reading may have been amazingly important to you but we will prevent you from reading it – at least for a few seconds – until you click the “x” to remove our ad.”

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

That said, not all banners are as evil as that variety. And it’s time we gave some of those lesser intrusive web banners a new look without measuring them solely on whether or not someone clicked on it.

“Why?” you say. “Isn’t clicking through the banner to the website the whole point?”

Actually, no. Let’s talk about the worst-kept secret around: People are clicking through less and less. Not always because the banner is bad creatively, but because we’re there for another purpose – to read an article, watch a video, etc. We don’t want to be taken away from that. But does that mean we completely tune out web banners that make us aware of the product or service? Not usually. I’ve seen many a service that I am aware of and understand its benefits well enough…but have never clicked through to the website. I don’t have to. I get what they’re selling. It’s just that I don’t need to have an in-depth experience with them at this specific moment and may buy from them later. Is that bad? I argue that no – it is not.

How is it different than most of the billboards on the highway that you see on your way to work? That’s for awareness. You’re not going to dial their number or visit their website while driving 65mph. But if they’ve done their job well, you’ll remember it.

But that’s the extent of the relationship.

Web banners may work in a similar fashion for awareness yet cost significantly less and have at least 2 advantages:

1) They’re hopefully placed in a setting where your target audience tends to frequent. The traditional billboard is placed in an area where anyone could pass by.

2) There a chance, albeit a dwindling one, that someone will visit your site after viewing the ad. There’s an even smaller chance when you have a traditional billboard that merely has your name, logo and headline on it. Brand building? Maybe. Action taken as a result? Unlikely.

Billboards as we’ve known them aren’t dead. It’s just that we need to be demanding more of them. It’s no longer enough to stick a billboard on a “high traffic” road and say that the ultimate measure of success is that more people are aware of the brand when there are lower cost options to potentially achieve the same thing or better.

Which leads us back to web banners. Let’s agree that click-throughs are generally atrocious – .1% or 1 in 1000. But if we’re to look beyond that and focus more on the awareness/recall factor, we can see that this may not matter nearly as much as we thought, case in point the recent Mashable article, “Why Banner Ads Are Having A Banner Year.”

Yes, you should hold web banners accountable as part of the overall marketing mix to reach your goals. But their success or failure should not be measured in clicks alone. Which is why I think cost per impression (CPM) gets a bad rap at times.

To be clear, I don’t recommend web banners as part of every mix, but it’s time to revisit how they’re judged. In the same vein, it’s time to hold traditional billboards under the microscope too. Could you find greater interactivity in an airport billboard, billboard on an subway station platform (here in Chicago, I’d say we have a good 5 minutes standing next to the message of choice while waiting for a CTA train) or on the train/bus itself where people spend even more time. And beyond placement, are there texting options, QR codes or other immediate response devices that make that ad go farther?

That’s the funny thing about the new media choices. We’re so focused on adding entire new channels, we forget that the old ones we’ve known still have potential use in the right situation. As long as we know which metric to look at and understand it’s not always about the click.

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