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How to extend the life of the banner ad

How to extend the life of the banner ad Courtney Nowicki
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Every year following the Super Bowl, consumers participate in an interesting tradition: They head online to view the commercials again. Apart from being made available on video sites like YouTube and Hulu, the spots can often be seen on brand advertiser sites. Many keep theirs up for weeks, and even months, in an effort to make the most of their ad investment and leverage the momentum generated by the Big Game.


This, of course, is an annual occurrence. The question is, why don't brands do this more often? If there's a marketing advantage to sustaining the life of your Super Bowl ads, couldn't the rest of the creative in your campaign toolbox be valuable, too? If consumers care to see ads from other media after the campaigns have come to a close, they can have a devil of a time tracking them down.


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But brands are slowly beginning to take a cue from the Super Bowl tradition and recognize that there are benefits to publicly cataloguing their digital advertising. They've begun to entertain the idea of archiving their ads, not only to generate more of the same conversions for which they were initially designed, but also for the purpose of ongoing branding.


Most likely this trend has been slow to develop because brands questioned whether consumers did, in fact, want to view their ads again. Million-dollar Super Bowl spots are one thing, but what of the video ads and expandable banners created solely to drive brand site traffic or increase awareness of a new product or service? Is there really a desire to see this type of creative again? 


The answer lies in two words: relevance and value. Through their desire to make both of these a bigger part of the online advertising experience, consumers are, in fact, spurring the development of tools and services expressly designed to save ads. For example, ads are being frozen in time and redistributed (whether brands like it or not) through Twitpics posted by internet users who have spotted them; in ad galleries on rich media developer sites; and on Facebook pages like Ad Takeover, a roundup of notable takeover ads. The time is right for brands to take control of the process by actively facilitating "ad saving" online.


Digital ads for keeps
One solution may lie in new service AdKeeper. Founder Scott Kurnit -- who also founded About.com -- asserts that internet users should be given the opportunity to treat an online ad as they would a print ad -- to tear it out and save it for later. "After 15 years of just impressions and clicks, we think making creative for the keep is a huge opportunity," Kurnit says. "Between banner blindness and non-existent clicks, both the creative and media sides of the business are primed for something entirely new."


The AdKeeper service, which is currently in beta but will be launching within the next few weeks, has convinced major brands like Allstate, AT&T, CBS, Gap, McDonalds, and Sara Lee to start including a small "Keep" button on their banner and rich media ads to allow users to save them for later (the ability to do the same for video creative will follow). When an internet user scrolls over that button, he's given the opportunity to archive it to a private Keeper page, where he can sort, catalog, rate, review, and share all of his selected banners.


Kurnit has little doubt that consumers will relish this newfound control over the digital advertising experience: AdKeeper recently commissioned Nielsen to poll 1,600 consumers about the concept behind the company and found that 56 percent intend to use the service, and 71 percent of them would use it as much as twice per week. When asked about their motivation for employing the system respondents listed ease of use (87 percent), saving ads (87 percent), sharing ads (78 percent), and saving money (72 percent).


Brand sites as ad galleries
Another approach for brands would be to create a digital ad archive, or "ad gallery," on their sites. So far, digital ads have typically been left out of such content channels. For example, the Coca Cola Company has an entire A/V section online but doesn't use it to highlight its web ads. And neither does Absolut, which offers an online campaign image bank.


It would take very little effort to expand such galleries with digital ads and use social media to point consumers to particularly innovative and exciting campaigns. Brands are investing small fortunes and impressive brainpower in their online campaigns, but in terms of showcasing the results, their efforts fall flat.


Whose side are the consumers on?
AdKeeper's Nielsen polls aside, consumers' attitudes toward banner ads aren't always clear. In one Harris Interactive study conducted last year, 43 percent of respondents said they "ignored or disregarded" banners, and 63 percent said they disregarded internet ads above all others. At the same time, eMarketer estimates that U.S. advertisers will spend $6.56 billion on banner ads this year -- an increase of 11.4 percent over last. The situation calls to mind the old paradox about email spam: Consumers would bemoan the number of unsolicited messages in their inboxes, but that wouldn't stop them from clicking. 


The incongruity between consumer opinions and advertiser results lies, again, in relevance and value. Not all banners are created equal -- in fact, there's often a huge discrepancy between the quality and value of ads produced for major brands and countless other less likeable alternatives. Consumers may also fail to realize the effect that banners are actually having on their purchasing habits. MediaMind reports that just 20.4 percent of conversions occur immediately after clicking on a banner, while nearly 80 percent happen post-impression.


If consumers are still thinking about the brand and ad message enough after seeing a banner to convert at a later date, doesn't it stand to reason that they might be interested in revisiting that ad? If they come across an ad for a medical service or a vacation destination that's of interest but don't want to pursue it in the office, might they not really appreciate the ability to tuck it away for when they get home?


In general, consumer attitudes toward advertising are changing. People are beginning to recognize that there's real value in ads that offer something they truly need or want, and buy into the notion not just of tolerating those ads, but inviting them into their lives. For evidence of this, you don't have to look any further than Groupon, with its 54 million members, and Livingsocial, which currently has 20 million members. Daily messages from these group-buying services are essentially geographically targeted ads. These and other such businesses are teaching their subscribers that targeted ads attached to valuable offers can enhance their lives as consumers.


Consumers and brands are on the verge of simultaneously discovering the benefits of extending the life of digital ads online. Maybe the banner will finally get its credit where credit is due.


Courtney Nowicki is associate director of interactive at Enlighten


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As the Associate Director of Interactive Marketing at Enlighten, Courtney Nowicki manages the planning and creation of all integrated online advertising, search marketing, and emerging media campaigns for Kao Brands clients.  Previously, she...

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