Banner Ads Must Die!!!

First the Corporate Website is Dead and now something else?

Yep. Earlier this week I was asked for my view on which marketing tactic is like “The Walking Dead” of marketing.

I was honored to be included on the list of contributors along with amazing thought leaders in marketing like Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Doug Kessler, Neil Patel and more.

They suggested some outdated marketing tactics including over-promotion, quantity over quality and a lack of courage. And those are all good ones.

My advice of which marketing tactic was like the walking dead: banner ads!!!

Banners. Must. Die!!!

Why it needs to die: They simply don’t work. Your customers ignore them. Your future customers might even hate you for interrupting their content experiences. The only reason spending on banner advertising is not dying faster is because marketers are shifting money from traditional marketing (print, radio, TV) to digital formats. But click through rates on banners are less than .1% (0.08% is the average) in most industries. Eye-tracking studies show that everyone ignores them so even for branding and awareness, this tactic is hard to justify.

What marketers should do, instead: Marketers need to shift their banner ad investments into brand content marketing experiences. Why interrupt what your customers want, when you can be what your customers want?

Consider the stats:

  • You are 31 times more likely to win the lottery than to have someone click on your banner ad (Business Insider).
  • You are 112 times more likely to complete US Navy Seal training than to have someone click on your banner ad (Business Insider).
  • You are 475 times more likely to survive a plan crash than to have someone click on your banner ad (Business Insider).
  • Around 31% of ad impressions can’t be viewed by users. (Comscore)
  • 8% of Internet users account for 85 percent of clicks. (ComScore)
  • 50% of clicks on mobile banner ads are accidental. (GoldSpot Media)
  • Kraft rejects 75% to 85% of ad impressions due to fraud, quality and other issues (AdAge)

So while banner advertising still represents about 19% of online advertising, and that figure grew in dollar terms from the prior year, the share of banner advertising is slipping (down from 21% the year before.)

I believe there’s still hope that we will abandon this zombie marketing tactic. What about you?

Update (October 31, 2014): Hubspot launched this cheeky Chrome extension to replace your banner ads with pictures of baby animals! Brilliant work. Also, more seriously, AdAge reported yesterday that 23% of ads bought on automated exchanges are served to mis-represented urls. This so-called “url masking” is another type of fraud “plaguing automated ad buying marketplaces” said reporter Alex Kantrowitz.

Update (November 7, 2014): The New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo is piling on with his “Fall Of The Banner Ad: The Monster Who Ate The Web” written on November 5th. And in the spirit of equal time, I was pointed to this Defense Of Banner Ads which argues that banner’s awful response rate is as good or better than TV, radio and Billboards. My favorite quote: “advertising ROI is defined by what we catch, not what we spill.”

Update (November 10, 2014): First, in doing a Google search, I found this great article on The Street that does a great job of supporting the same arguments I made. And then today, Tom Goosmann wrote an article “In Defense of Banner Ads” on AdAge. Tom’s main point is that his data shows they work. He didn’t reveal the data, or refute anyone else’s data with any facts. He mentioned “complex analytics” and also that when they stopped using banners, his client’s traffic plummets. Says the ad man. Who makes banner ads.

I think I’ll agree with Lincoln Millstein, the SVP at Hearst, the guy who created and helped remake the He calls banner ads “the worst performing ad vehicle ever.” He continues to predict that “the smart money will go to create great stories on the Internet, using social and compelling video.”

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

14 thoughts on “Banner Ads Must Die!!!

  1. Funny. Wrong conclusions but funny. Great examples of terrible misunderstandings of how to understand display advertising and what to expect from it. Almost all of your facts are related to clicks as a messurement of success and there are plenty of evidence against that perspective.

    Most publishers don’t get it though and offer bad placements in a terrible environment. A few gets it and if you are really interested in learning more about display you should read this:

    1. Hi Andreas, thanks for getting the tone and for having a sense of humor!

      I will retort that not all the facts are related to clicks. And while I get the value of impressions overall driving brand awareness, the eye-tracking studies should worry us the most.

      Earlier this year, Gary Vaynerchuck reported on an eye tracking study of millennials showing not a single eyeball hit a banner and not one participant recalled even one brand presented in the banner ad space.

      You provided a compelling case study and appreciate you sharing that with all of us here. I think there are examples where compelling creative coupled with premium placements could provide value for a certain type of brands. I’m just not sure it argues strongly enough for increasing investments over other forms of marketing that attract (vs. interrupt) consumer content experiences.

      My own experience showed that paid distribution of tested content, in one example, can drive as much traffic to a brand website as 100X as much paid banner space. I’m sure they didn’t execute the buy and creative as expertly as you did but it’s hard to argue against a 100x improvement. Overall, I think this comes down to mix.

      I think brands should start with creating owned content experiences that attract their audience, then look to supplement that with paid social and paid ads so that 1+1+1 = more than 3. I think it’s possible. And I know as an industry, we can do better.

  2. This is like comparing junk mail to direct mail, or email to spam. You can’t take great advertising and crappy advertising and then just average it together. Good display advertising works! Heck, that’s how I found your article — some link on Twitter.

    1. Hey Brett, thanks for chiming in. I don’t pay for any display advertising on twitter. Thats organic social reach. And it cost me nothing because someone shared it after seeing the post and thinking it might be valuable. That is the secret to content marketing: create content people actually want to read and share. Banners, even the most creative ones, are interruptions.

  3. Totally agree, Michael. Banner Ads are nothing but digital user experience interruptions. They are ineffective, and your stats show. I would like to see down the road, perhaps 5 years from now, the outcome of banners as a form of marketing. Thanks for the post.

  4. Hi,

    Do you know when I think banner ads just stopped working? In my humble opinion, when they started being animated… looong ago. That “interactivity” made them annoying, and started causing rejection.

    Today banner ads are mostly ignored because they have been abused over and over again. If I were the ruler of the Internet, I would just place them at the bottom of the Internet, without interactivity, and under time-based priced. Why? Three reasons:

    1. Because an ad at the bottom of the article will be seen only by those who were genuinely interested in the article. Those who are not, will not find the ads annoying.

    2. Because interactive banners create distraction! If you want to get a click, why on earth are you asking the potential visitor to withhold his or her click until he can see the ad completely? It makes no sense.

    3. Because selling banners under impressions is fraud (banner impressions count visits made by robots, so a large percentage of banners are never seen by a human), under PPC is fraud (because of click fraud and bot-generated clicks), and time-based banners solve that problem.

    My 0.02. =)

  5. Hi Michael,

    An interesting articles but I don’t think banner ads are dead, I’ve been trying out some limited retargeting and the conversion rate I’ve seen directly from clicks has more than covered the cost so far and that before you try to work out the value of post views conversions.

    I would say it’s very much alive but just like anything you need to be careful as you could waste a lot of money without seeing a return.


    1. Hi Rufus, thank you for the comment. I agree that banners can work for certain industries. I’ve actually responded to re-targeted banners after checking out some online purchases. I’m not sure it’s worth it for the majority of advertisers. Who are buying the inventory in a glutted market of low quality “impressions.”

      I gravitated toward content marketing because of the data showing me that it is more cost effective than many other (if not all) techniques. But events are effective too despite a higher cost per lead and so are other lead generation (B2B) techniques. In the end, it comes down to goals and budget and effectiveness.

      I don’t think banner ads will go away completely. But the rush to buy more, more cheaply, with robots, is not helping anyone but the ad exchanges.

  6. I think that banner ads are wonderful.
    They are cheap and if only 1% click on them, that’s fantastic. They are usually set at about $20 or $30 for 30 days for 100,000 impressions, which at 1% would give me 1000 visitors. Not bad for $20. And people must like them, because they click on them.

  7. I do not think that Banner ads are dead. I do think that they need to evolve along with the tactics and management of campaigns. The evolution of personalized advertising and engaging ads is the first step. The content in ad and the UX Post click must blend well together in order to have the greatest effect. When coupled with managing placements, bids and audiences, display can provide a significant ROI

    *Note, I do work in RTB on the buy side, so I am slightly biased, but do agree that the current system needs work.

    1. Thanks Bryan, I think we agree. I think the space banners occupy could be used to present engaging content people actually want to click on. Once we start to see that happen en masse, then we can start reversing the trend of teaching readers to ignore that space. Feels like a long road to get there. But in theory, I agree with you that they are not dead and MUST evolve in this way.

  8. Michael – thanks for the provocative article.

    I think it’s 2% of 50 different things. (OK that percentage breakdown isn’t accurate…lol!) No single marketing mechanism can stand on it’s own. I agree that good quality content is an awesome tool, but I also see a place for well designed display just like I see a place for well designed out of home. How do your customers begin their journey? What part of that journey are you trying to involve your brand in? What tool is best utilized for the various phases of your sales process/funnel?

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