Fact Not Opinion: Online Display Ads Are Screwed

Fact Not Opinion: Online Display Ads Are Screwed

It’s time to stop kidding ourselves, display-based online advertising doesn’t work. Exponential’s Tyler Greer says something needs to change.

Here’s a number: 0.02%. This is not the percentage of the population who works in media. And it’s not the latest ratings for Ten’s Wonderland. That’s much lower. This little number is, in fact, a very big number. It’s the average click through rate for display-based online advertising. And we’ve spent billions of dollars trying to achieve it. Perhaps it’s all of us who have been living in wonderland.

Here’s something else about that number and what it tells us about display banners: nobody wants to click on them. If they did, they would. There are several possible reasons for this.

  1. Creative is poor. Sometimes true, often not. Response advertising has been with us since we could scissor a coupon out of a press page. Advertising knows how to incite an action pretty well.
  2. Targeting is poor. Very unlikely. We’re getting better at this every day, to the point of being creepy, in fact. Be it by demo, interest, in-market, behaviour, category, context – advertisers today have a better shot than ever at reaching their intended audience.
  3. Visibility. OK, this is an issue. But let’s be honest; even the most seen standard display ads will still yield a low return.

Placing considered creative in front of a target audience in an ad that is seen. Seems like advertising 101. And yet here we are at 0.02%. What are we missing? Here’s a thought – the user journey.

Digital media has above all things provided the user with control. When electing to view a page, chances are that is exactly where they wish to be, and any strategy that seeks to have the user leave the place they wish to be is flawed. More importantly, it is probably not necessary.

We have at our disposal advertising solutions which allow us to deliver a brand experience which does not require users to deviate from the path they’re on. All the best parts of a website can be inserted into a digital ad unit – interactive pre-roll, expanding display, mobile – and delivered to the user within the space, page and the journey they are on.

And we know users want this because the numbers tell us so. At Exponential, we see our engagement units deliver attention rates of 4% and over. We see videos more likely to be completed; galleries explored and games played; and, perhaps most interestingly, much higher click through rates. All the things we are trying to drag users into our websites to enjoy can be delivered in a way that respects their online journey.

The user journey is not playing a large enough role in the planning of digital media, especially in display. Understanding the user journey – what they want from their time on a page, how they want to be delivered advertising and how they are likely to interact with it – is critical to the success of any campaign. And a 0.02% click through rate is telling us something we should take notice of.

One small shift in creative thinking and ad building solves myriad problems for advertisers. That shift is based around units which value engagement on the report card. With that, comes the push for more interesting, user-focused creative. The IAB describes engagement as “a spectrum of consumer advertising activities and experiences – cognitive, emotional, and physical – that will have a positive impact on a brand”. All this can be delivered to a customer without having to try to hijack them away from the online experience they’re having.

What is best for clients and brands is often what is best for users in the digital space – an experience that is rewarding, useful, and doesn’t interrupt the natural path they are on. And that doesn’t sound like a click through.

Tyler Greer is the head of strategy, APAC, Exponential


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