Why Are Banner Ads All Over the Web, If No One Likes Them?

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An explanation in two sentences.
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Banner ads are a weird thing. Many advertisers wish they worked better. Many publishers wish they sold better. Readers wish they didn't exist, or at least looked better. And yet, they persist as the dominant form of advertising that supports content on the web. Why? Brian Morissey at Digiday provides a just-flip-enough explanation for this apparent conundrum:

"Agencies know how to build and buy them; publishers know how to sell them."
He has more than that to say, of course, but that's the main thrust of the argument. Banner ads scale easily; banner ads look like the kind of "creative" people are used to; and banner ads sell like print ads ("Put your pictures and words near our pictures and words!")

Any new model for online advertising (say, BuzzFeed's social ads) has an uphill battle. They not only have to sell ads. They have to sell the very idea of a new kind of advertising.

Perhaps, though, the change is going to come soon. Everyone knows advertising on the web should be more interesting. And not just to increase brand recall. All the creatives at agencies I've met really want to do new things. They are just itching to do awesome stuff, and yet most of the time, they're designing flash banners that sit next to completely unrelated articles on some website, not making Super Bowl commercials like they thought they might.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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