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Banner ad days may be numbered

The banner ad is almost five years old, but already it’s looking haggard.

The little rectangular box that blinks at web surfers from the top of almost any web page has come under scrutinous eyes at the electronic retailing show, eRetailing99.

A panel discussed the banner ad, its history and its movements, and found there are other options for Internet advertising.

Traditionally, banner advertising was relatively untargeted, as banners popped up indiscriminately on various pages.

Things turned interactive as banners began to display tricks in response to mouse movements, but the interactive banner required more bandwidth and resulted in a longer download time, which didn’t benefit the audience, web page or the advertiser.

Web users were further turned off clicking on banner ads due to their history of bad commercial destinations.

Users felt the ads didn’t reflect the final destination, and they were looking for better destination content or at least some continuity between the banner and the page they were eventually faced with.

Shop.org panel members at the eRetailing99 show concluded that for banner advertising to be effective it needs to be targeted and appear to someone in search of a particular item, information or service.

Ads also need to be regularly tested, not only to see if people are clicking, but to see if people are buying or at least staying for more time than it takes time to click the ‘back’ button.

Timothy Zucker, vice president of marketing at online consumer electronics store 800.com said: “the days of just doing a banner ad campaign are over.”

With many sites relying on advertising revenue to make money, the number of alternatives are growing rapidly.

Targeted banner ads, either placed on related sites or returned after a keyword search on engines such as yahoo or altavista, are attractive but more expensive alternatives for gaining a solid web presence.

Not currently operating in Australia to a great degree are interstitials, full page ads which pop up between movement from one link to the next. While a targeted alternative to the banner ad, some see them as intrusive.

Similar to interstitials are pop-ups – little boxes which appear on the screen. However, not only are they considered intrusive, they are expensive, costing approximately $180 per 1000 pops.

Affiliate programs, most famously used by Amazon.com, the company with the largest web presence, are becoming a more popular means of attaining net presence.

Affiliate programs vary, but work on the principle of letting other sites help sell a product through banners or linked referrals.

For example, Joe has a site dedicated to Salman Rushdie and he gives a link to Amazon via a Rushdie book page.

The program benefits both. Amazon lives off the content of Joe’s page and Joe is paid a percentage of sales.

Content sponsorship is another alternative which is less intrusive than pop-ups and interstitials. Sponsorship gives companies a web presence and can add value to a site, particularly if the brand is well established.

There is no doubt that better targeting would improve the ‘click throughs’ banner ads generate, as more relevant ads in any media generate better results.

The proliferation of alternative online advertising formats is evidence of an industry maturing, which no doubt will lead to better company web presences, surfer participation and internet advertising revenues.

• Raphe Patmore is executive director of Q Multimedium.

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