Less is Less. More is More.

4 Aug

For the past fifteen years or so, or ever since the first online ad banner appeared, the predominant approach has been to liken online banners to billboards on a highway. The “less is more” approach has been to make them catchy and quick to read as if we’re spending our time in front of a computer the same way we do when barreling down the highway, with very little time to give attention to anything but the road (or what we might be texting on our phones… Just kidding here, or am I…)  To be fair, as “Internet savvy” marketers, we knew there weren’t many alternatives to making an announcement on someone else’s website. Lest we started cramming a bunch of information on a tiny 196 x 60 pixel rectangle or used the interruptive spam tactics (too numerous to list here) that the Canadian pharmacists and incredibly cheap mortgage bankers seem to favor. But I couldn’t resist adding my personal favorite example right here.

Loud and catchy

I smell the click-throughs!

We all agree that digital media is exemplifying the principles of permission marketing more than any other form of communication and we seem to be resigned to the fact that consumers will just not put up with any advertising, period. And since they control the conversation, there isn’t much to do. Could this spell the death of advertising as it has been announced by our best prophets eons ago? It could, unless advertising changes radically as to what exactly it offers consumers.

So back to our online ad banner. Just from observing my own behavior, an ad banner being nimble and non-interruptive yet bright and catchy in its messaging does not make it any more conducive to me clicking through. At best it might make it more noticeable on my screen. That’s good if you’re tracking old-fashioned eyeballs, or impressions as we say in the digital world. (But didn’t we all agree that interactive media would give us so much more to measure.) And then no matter how elegant the banner is, it always seems to take away from the website’s experience.  Beyond that, an ad banner can be considered an eyesore that consumers just tune out. With advertisers having no way of knowing how many potential customers they have turned off. Now that was a marketer’s worst nightmare last time I checked.

To follow the thought above, ad banners are going to need to evolve into something more discreet yet with much more value for consumers if we want to keep using them.

The problem is not how to make banners less, but it is really how to make them more.

With current technology we can make ad banners so much more than a simplistic and sometimes obnoxious call to click through. We can let ad banners be a window into the product or services we’re selling, and we can do it without forcing them upon consumers’ screens. I’m talking about the expanding banners most of us have experienced, except with so much more than a zoomed-in view of the initial message with larger type call to click through. We also need to more clearly let consumers decide whether or not they want to interact and expand the banner to unveil what’s behind the curtain so-to-speak. Not sneak up on them as some mouse-over expanding banners do. Further down that path, we can develop banners that capture information and as a result let them evolve according to users’ preferences.

To use an example. Let’s assume we create an expanding banner that shows all aspects of a new car. The banner starts off as a clever yet discreet teaser in a corner so as to minimize interference with the website. When clicked (not moused over as that would be potentially interruptive in case of an accidental hover) it unfolds to reveal a menu of choices. From performance and technology info, to the exterior and interior design and features, it would even include some video, perhaps an interactive experience to make a point about a specific benefit. After some use the banner would start registering what most users are interested in seeing in that car (implicit preferences). The next iteration of the banner would then offer more in-depth content for that specific area and perhaps even change the focus when starting off. And all of that interactivity would be dynamic, not ever involving any additional programming. Better yet, the banner would also gather qualitative feedback and gather that information in a database (explicit preferences). It would incorporate a dealer inventory request form with a zipcode search without ever having to send the consumer off to a separate website. Now how about that for a meaningful customer experience. That’s where more is more.

A live example of that approach is the remarkable new iAd platform for the iPhone and iPod. Not surprisingly, the Apple folks have figured out what consumers really want. Now, why would that be? Oh, yes, that’s because they’re the guys who fought all the big labels and gave the people what they wanted. Namely iTunes. Now they’re taking on the Ad Networks. But I realize that’s a whole other discussion. So I’ll leave it at that. Thanks and stay tuned. And remember, less is less and more is more.

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