Banner ads CAN perform

standard web bannerIt seems that I cannot spend a week without either reading an article or blog post about how banner ads are no good, or hearing someone, on either the buy or sales side of the digital advertising industry complaining about it. The premise is usually that they don’t work, don’t perform, annoy or aren’t creative enough.

I totally get where these arguments and frustrations come from. Digital display advertising may sound simple, but it is very complex and complicated.

To perform, banner ads need to be properly aligned in their 5 dimensions with the advertisers’ campaign objective and success metric, along with creative and message. (say it with me)

Sorry, that needed repeating.

If any one component of the 5 dimensions isn’t aligned with the campaign objective, or if it is not in line with the success metric, you have set yourself up for failure or at best, mediocre results. Same is true if your message doesn’t work towards your objective, of if the creative isn’t suited to both your objective and message.

Campaign Objective

First off, what are campaign objectives? Your campaign objective is the measurable wording of the marketing problem / situation you want your advertising campaign to address. Offline, your campaign objective is either branding focused, or direct response focused. It CANNOT be both – if you try to do both, you’ll do a poor job at both. If you focus on one, you have the potential to achieve success. Online we split branding into two potential objectives – because we can execute, track and measure both distinctly from one another: awareness and engagement / persuasion. Which ONE best addresses your current marketing problem?

Success Metric

Note that your objective must be measurable. You need a metric which will indicate whether your objective was met or not. It could be a number of individuals reached; time spent with your ad, a specific number of white paper downloads or email subscribers, sales, or a lift in your search engine ranking. Whatever metric you decide to use, ensure that it speaks to your objective specifically and cannot easily be interpreted as the result of something else. Ensure you have a measurement history to compare against and that you know exactly how to obtain the number you’re looking for.

5 Dimensions

What are the dimensions of digital advertising? Pricing models is the first: does your pricing model allow you to pay for what it is your objective needs to achieve? For example, are you paying of impressions when you are looking for engagements? The second is ad formats. Digital ads come in many shapes and technologies – what will best convey your message and drive the results you need? Is it a regular display ad which happens to be in people’s face when they visit the web (it will only get noticed if your creative and message are compelling)? Are video or text better suited to meet your needs? How about interactive / rich media ads – if your objective is engagement then you need your creative to be interactive, not so if you have an awareness or direct response objective for your campaign. Which environment will your ad run on? There are a number of different types of environments which users visit for different reasons and with a different mindset or frame of mind. One user can be receptive to your message in one environment and might not care less in another. Environments are content sites (news and entertainment), service sites (recipes, weather – niched), search engines, video sites, social networks, and newsletters. The fourth is which platform will best catch your audience in the right mind set: desktop, mobile (web or apps?), tablet, smart TV, eReader, gaming console… The last dimension is which targeting option is appropriate to reach the right audience: not too little targeted as you’re likely not addressing everyone, but also not too targeted so as to not be too limited.


Is your creative a straight digital adaptation of offline creative? Is it compelling? Is it appealing? Not to your, or your creative director, but to your audience! Why not set up a focus group of sorts, such as known regular clients or your regular newsletter / blog readers, and ask them what they think of it in a short 2-3 question pop quiz. Do you regularly test different layouts, colors and textures?


Similar to creative, however you need to analyze the words and tone of your message. If you were a prospective client, or your target audience, would this speak to you? Again, test variations quickly and often with your regular clients – they’ll be happy to help.

Proper alignment

Success with a banner ad campaign can only come if all of these components are properly aligned: campaign objective, success metric, message, creative, pricing model, ad format, and environment, platform and targeting options.

Before complaining that banners suck next time you see a lousy report, be honest, was everything properly aligned?

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