Banners ads are alive – though not clicking

Study shows banners are good for long-term brand building, but not for achieving click-through

Contrary to the common view that banner advertising is dead or at least on its last legs, new research released today shows that it is highly effective in building brands online.

The research was conducted by Web usability experts Bunnyfoot Universality. It found that while banner advertising is not particularly effective in generating direct response via “click through”, it is good for creating brand presence in the mind of a user, and therefore building long-term brand recognition.

In a series of tests, users spent several minutes completing a range of tasks on a variety of high-profile websites and were then asked several questions about what they had seen. When given a choice of brands, 65 per cent of the users remembered which brand was advertised at the top of the Web page they had visited, showing clearly that even though they didn’t act upon it, they did remember which brand was advertised. In a similar test, 49 per cent of users could recall the advertised brand.

Bunnyfoot head of people behaviour Dr Jon Dodd says: “The myth that banner advertising is dead is based on the simple assumptions of what people do, as opposed to what they think or how they behave. Most online advertising campaigns are evaluated against the amount of click-throughs received, so it’s little wonder that people are questioning the value of banner ads.

“What the user does is only a small factor, what they think and how they behave tells the real story. In this respect there is no substitute for watching and talking to users, instead of simply evaluating against a series of disappointing click-through statistics.” The user tests also used “eye-tracking” technology that analyses users’ eye movements around the screen as they use each website. This proved that people’s eyes are drawn to banner ads and that users do give them consideration.

The research also identified a real dislike for pop-up advertising and flashing banner ads. More than 95 per cent of people tested expressed irritation with pop-ups, and simply closed them without looking at them. Similarly, flashing banner ads were generally viewed negatively, with users dismissing them immediately.

Dr Dodd says: “The banner is here to stay, but it has its limitations. It is great for brand building, but when it comes to generating response, other methods such as sponsored links and inline ads (ads that form part of the website content) are more effective. The key is to get the mix right, and that’s only possible if we watch, talk to and listen to real users. But while the industry continues to use anecdotes and direct-response statistics, the negative attitude towards online marketing will continue.”

Research from the Internet Advertising Bureau reveals that expenditure on online advertising has doubled in the past two years, and now accounts for two per cent of total marketing spend. The IAB predicts that online ad spend will reach &£300m this year, double that spent on cinema ads and almost half the amount spent on radio advertising.

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