Are we being too harsh on banner ads?

banner ads

Not a day goes by when you don’t hear of a news org announcing it’s entering the native advertising space or launching a video department where higher-cost, pre-roll advertisements can be played. Still more are getting into the events space, selling ebooks, or opening their own ecommerce stores. It seems that most of the industry is giving up on the banner ad, and it’s hard to blame them. Study after study has shown the banner ad’s effect to be negligible. Its click-through rate is between .01 and .1 percent. Only about 8 percent of all consumers ever click on banner ads. And because of too much inventory and too little demand, CPM rates are increasingly driven down to levels that make it impossible for anyone but the most highly-trafficked, viral-heavy websites to make any money.

But Ben Kunz, the VP of an ad agency, thinks we’re being too harsh on banner ads:

First, banners get knocked because some are unseen. Welcome to advertising. All forms of advertising have waste or “blindness,” and all have anemic response rates; for instance, on average, the U.S. consumer is theoretically exposed to 6,000 TV commercials a month (calculated as 270 minutes TV viewing a day * 30 days * 30 percent commercials * 2.5 for 30-second spots and other short promotions), so if you respond to three products seen on TV a month, your response rate is 0.05 percent — about the same as banner ads. And I would challenge you to recall more than 100 of those TV commercials. Meet “TV spot blindness.” The same goes for newspapers where you don’t turn to page B6 or radio where you switch the dial for a commercial break. Someone is always paying for ads that never make it to your eyes or ears.

So is he right? Does a banner ad have about the same efficacy as any other kind of advertisement?


You may not remember every video advertisement that you’ve ever seen, but there’s a reason that advertisers pay such high rates for them. There are ad jingles for commercials that I haven’t seen in 20 years that I can recite by heart (“Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at supper time. With pizza on a bagel, you can get pizza anytime.”) It’s not uncommon for clever commercials to become topics of conversation with your friends and family. And if they’re really good, then they can achieve viral, organic reach on YouTube.

Magazine ads, while not as effective in terms of recall, still get me to pause and look at them regularly. At least if they’re full page.


The problem with most banner ads, I’d wager, is that they’re simply too small. Even when experts point to examples where a banner ad has been successful, it’s usually the case in which a cookie was attached to the user’s browser after he visited an ecommerce website, which allowed banner ads on other websites to continually remind him of that desired purchase until he eventually carried through with it. So the banner ad, in this case, doesn’t really create the desire to buy, just serves as a form of subliminal messaging that pushes you toward an action you were already mulling over. The use for this type of advertising seems limited.

Probably the most effective banner ad is the one that most resembles a full-page print ad: the interstitial. It takes up a significant portion of your screen and, because you usually have to click out of it before you can see the content behind it, creates a captive audience. Unfortunately, it’s usually regarded as an annoyance by web users who spend most of their times looking for the X to click out of it rather than studying the ad.

There’s a solution to this, I believe, and it was used by sometime in the early 2000s. Back then, Salon was still subscription-based, with much of its content behind a paywall. But then it began an experimental method of allowing users in for free. If you visited the site while not logged in, a message would pop up saying something to the effect of, “Only logged in members are allowed to view content, but if you’re willing to view one 30-second ad you can receive a day pass to all of Salon.” The user had to click on whether he wanted to log in/subscribe or watch the ad. Described in this way, it made me aware as a consumer that this content I was reading cost money, and viewed that way, spending a few seconds looking at an ad didn’t seem that onerous. And I remember actually watching the ad rather than desperately searching for a way of clicking out of it.

Now, if you make it so that every time someone visits your website then he’s forced to watch an interstitial, then that could alienate your users. But if you show each user one high quality ad a day where you explain beforehand that once he’s watched it, he won’t encounter any other such ads for the rest of the day? Well, we’re already willing to sit through 15 seconds of pre-roll ads on YouTube videos that are less than five minutes long. Our readers might be more willing to look at our ads if we treat them like grownups rather than faceless consumers forced to do battle with a fusillade of ads they desperately want to click out of.


Did you like this article? Do you want me to create awesome content like this for you? Go here to learn how you can hire me.

Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.