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

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/08/why-are-banner-ads-all-over-the-web-if-no-one-likes-them/260612/