There have been a lot of statistics lately about how banner ads are not very effective if measured by click-through rates, and this is largely true.
“Click-through rates – even at the high end – it’s a very low percentage,” said John Reneski, a Course Director for Full Sail’s Internet Marketing Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degree programs.
However, banner ads are not just about an immediate sale.
“It’s the idea of brand awareness and brand strategy,” explained Reneski. “Today’s banner strategies have moved beyond the classic and static ‘click here’ to include the full range of rich media video and interactive and gaming technologies, that not only create brand awareness, but create brand engagement. Today’s ads leverage design, copy, and rich content to inform and entertain.”
Here are five recent examples that Reneski says show how banner ads can truly be entertaining and engaging:
Banner Ads That Don’t Look Like Banner Ads
If you happened to land on the New York Times’ website just before the release of the new zombie apocalypse film World War Z, you may have been temporarily stunned to read about a “Population Loss Projected at 4.7 Billion” and “Martial Law Declared for Eastern Seaboard.” It wasn’t real news of course; it was a World War Z ad, made to look like the front page of the Times. After a brief moment, the front page returned to normal, leaving two small, clickable banner ads in each corner of the front page.
“It’s going so fast, it makes you wonder what you really saw, and what’s left is the [smaller] banners. What you’ll remember is the World War Z [message] – and the logo for the trailer is right there.”
Another example was a New York Times banner ad that was part of Apple’s Mac vs. PC campaign. In this ad, the Mac vs. PC characters discuss the fake story on the front page, and static photos from a nearby phony ad suddenly become animated and chime in.
Banner Ads with Ongoing Gags the Audience Recognizes
McDonald’s in New Zealand kept up a running gag over two summers (2010 and 2011) involving a limited-time-only chicken sandwich and its spokesman, famous Australian cricketer Shane Warne. The joke was that the chicken was so good that it didn’t really need a spokesman – it could just sell itself. The ads involved various schemes for getting Warne out of the picture and intentionally sidelined. One banner ad placed a fake video loading bar in front of his face, while another positioned a fake ‘buffering’ icon over him. Meanwhile, the chicken sandwich appears prominently in the foreground. In another interactive ad, users could physically remove Warne from the ad by clicking and dragging his image, leaving only the chicken sandwich.
Reneski points out that the New Zealand ads are fairly simple and not all that expensive to make, but very entertaining. “The idea of ‘What’s the gag?’ is going to pull them in,” says Reneski.
Highly Engaging Ads
In 2012, Google sponsored the re-envisioning of several historically famous ads, including the 1970s “Hilltop” Coke ad, in which an international group of people sings, “I’d like to buy the world a coke.” The 2012 banner ad version of “Hilltop” plays the original ad next to a clickable button that encourages you to “Send a free Coca-Cola across the world and share a little happiness with someone you’ve never met.” The ad then allows you to select a destination on a map, write or videotape a message, and send a free Coke.
“This is an example of an ad that asks you to engage and interact with the brand,” says Reneski. “They were able to use technology to convey the message of the concept that using Coke makes the world a happier place.”
Another highly engaging ad, which clearly conveys its brand is IKEA’s “Smallest IKEA store in the world” web banner, says Reneski. The 10.5 cm X 8.8 cm ad managed to cram clickable, musical thumbnails of 2,800 products into the tiny rectangular space, “an entire IKEA store in a web banner.” While the ad is not necessarily ideal for shopping, it illustrates the message of the brand, IKEA’s “commitment to saving space.”