I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve clicked on banner ads in the past year. That is to say, once.
If you asked me how many times I’ve clicked on them in the 24 years before that (16 of which have been spent on the internet), that number doesn’t change. And I’m willing to bet that’s one more than most people.
I spend a few hours a week writing banner ads, and on joining the agency in the later half of last year, I did some research. One of the first articles I came across was from DigiDay, who had compiled stats from several studies on just how few people are clicking on banner ads. Here are some of the more striking ones:
In another set of stats, this time from a Solve Media study, the list of things you’re more likely to do than click on a banner ad includes:
Its research also claimed that clicks on banners are decreasing every year.
For someone just beginning in copywriting for banner ads, these stats were quite worrying. Does my “unique” CTA really make a difference? When I stress over the slide progression in a flash banner, am I just wasting my time? Are banner ads totally ineffective?
I shared my fears with a colleague, who causally rebuffed the significance of those numbers. “I’m guessing they’re consumer stats, and we’re B2B. And everyone knows they’re low. Banner ads aren’t about click-through-rates anyway; they’re about awareness,” she said.
It turns out, she was right. And it inspired me to become a defender of banner ads – the misunderstood, unfairly treated black sheep of the advertising game (not the ones that sit across your screen for 15,14,13, 12 seconds – they’re totally annoying).
Banners are used as an awareness tactic and are unfairly judged on clicks, simply because clicks are track-able. We can’t click on a print, radio, TV or billboard ad, but it doesn’t mean they’re not effective as an overall marketing mix.
They’re awesome for brand recognition, re-targeting, and re-engagement. If they’re targeted properly, which B2B ads are, they provide relevant and helpful content, and can make a big difference to an integrated campaign where paid, earned and owned tactics work together.
So here’s my current philosophy. When I write a banner, it doesn’t matter if it gets clicks of not. That really comes down to whether that person is interested in the product, service, or brand. And even if they are interested, they probably won’t click-through there and then. They may wait a week, or a month, and then search for it directly. What’s important is that these ads are well targeted and seen, because at that point, research has already told us that the message is wanted and needed.
Some have pointed to statistics like the ones above as a portent of the death of digital advertising. And when you see those terrible, predatory ads that look like they’ll instantly infect your hard drive, it’s easy to see why. While I don’t believe banner ads have any reason to fear the reaper just yet, advertisers should look at the DigiDay stats and be humbled, and inspired to make better ads and improve whatever’s under their control.
What’s under my control is the quality of the copy. To me, that means honest, succinct, well judged, and well written. And if I achieve all those things, I know our designers will make it beautiful, and our B2B marketers will put the ad in the right place at the right time.
The digital world we live in creates a real challenge for banner ads, but if we’re respectful, relevant, and helpful, they’ll tolerate us. If we keep it up, they’ll trust us, and if we don’t exploit that, they’ll dialogue with us.
It might be that I only click on one more ad during the next 24 years of my life, but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job.