Social Banners: can they save online advertising?

August 8, 2008 at 10:53 am Leave a comment

With traditional forms of advertising being under pressure more and more, it seems banners have been sold as the “digital” way to keep doing mass communication. Fact though is,  since banners also communicate single-minded propositions, just like a TV ad, they really are no different, except you can maybe target them better (which is actually not always done) and measured better (also not always done). However, the modus operandi these days still for agencies seems to be that as long as you slap the label “digital” on something, it’s easier to sell. But, let’s face it, it’s still just advertising.

Looking at banners closely from a people’s point if view, banner advertising is one of the most annoying forms of advertising, maybe even more annoying than TV-Spots because they interrupt people’s task flows. So it is only natural that their effectiveness has been questioned for quite some time now. If you look at digital marketing budgets and the percentage of how much of it is spent on media versus creating rich experiences where the media buys should lead, unforunately, usually only a fraction is spent on creating the experiences. The mindset of “reach” is still more prevalent than that of “relevance” and offering people value in exchange for their attention and time. Banners are just messaging, and rarely have included meaningful experiences.

According to Adweek, AvenueA/Razorfish is trying to change all that with a new format they call AdLife and have been testing with a roster of their clients. AdLife banners have built in social-media features such as customer testimonials.

Singh [global social media lead for Avenue A/Razorfish] said efforts like AdLife are part of an industry-wide effort to solve a critical challenge: How to attract consumers’ attention at a time when display ads are ignored and customers rely more on what others say than advertisers.

“What’s driving this is the recognition that social influence has a big influence on purchases and brand affinity,” he said. “Customers listen to other customers more than anything else. It makes sense for the ad unit to carry customer voices.”

This seems to make sense at first sight, and will probably improve CTRs and bring value to AARFs ad clients.

However, there are two things I feel weary about:

1. If the focus is still on the effort on how to attract consumers attention from the brand point of view, you are not addressing the issue that they want a value exchange for that attention. It’s advertising think. Focus what people want first, then on how the brand can make a meaningful contribution. Not the other way around.

2. It is true that people listen to other people more than to messages. However, if you carry a consumers voice in an ad, it is still an ad. Testimonial advertising isn’t exactly new, and therefore is just, well, advertising. Also, social media work best, not only when people create the content, but also have the feeling it happens in the context of a social community the call their own. Can a banner ever provide that context?

So, apart from AARF’s honorable quest to keep deliver innovative solutions for their client’s problems, how much of an innovation is this in terms of focusing on creating human brand acts as opposed to delivering new forms of ads? Not much. It’s a more like hitting the pause button on the undeniable fact that pure messaging media will have to become de-emphasized in the favor of building holistic brand experiences.

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Entry filed under: Experience, humankind, Insights & Strategy, opinion, technology. Tags: , , , , .

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