In a recent blog post, John Battelle writes, "Display advertising is dead. Or put more accurately, the world of 'boxes and rectangles' is dead. No one pays attention to banner ads, the reasoning goes, and the model never really worked in the first place (except for direct response). Brand marketers are demanding more for their money, and standard display is simply not delivering. After nearly 20 years, it's time to bury the banner, and move on to...well something else."
As a director of digital media at Rosetta, a focus of my role is on display and its role within our clients' media mix, so reading John's article raised some questions for me. If he's right, and "display is dead," what's the next phase of digital marketing? I think the answer to that question depends largely on the advertiser's business objective.
For brands that are focused on driving users to take a defined action or conversion, I believe that display (banners) will continue to be an important tool in the marketer's tool box. As digital marketers, we need to be smarter and evolve how media is planned, bought, and optimized to deliver on these direct response objectives. Many of our clients we are seeing strong direct response performance using programmatic real-time bidding technologies such as DSPs and DMPs that bring in massive amounts of data (first and third party) to reach a defined audience and maximize response and conversions through optimization tools. Specifically, we are generating some of the strongest response rates from look-alike targeting that is designed to reach prospects most likely to convert.
To pump some additional life into banners, we need to think about the user experience with the brand and the message. For this reason, I think we will continue to see marketers becoming more advanced in delivering messaging that is more personalized based on what we know about the consumer from a profile (demographics) and intent indicators (behaviors). For many of our retail-focused clients, we are leveraging dynamic banner technology that enables custom imagery, ad copy, and calls-to-action that are constantly changing based on real-time audience and behavior analysis.
From a brand awareness and engagement perspective, I would agree with John's assessment that something needs to change in order to deliver on the full potential of the digital channel. The transition will happen as brands fundamentally shift their focus from a model based on reach and efficiency to one that is more centric to creating experiences. This approach will be one that is rooted in advertisers becoming publishers of content.
In an essay from 1996 titled "Content is King," Bill Gates wrote, "Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet, just as it was in broadcasting...When it comes to an interactive network such as the internet, the definition of "content" becomes very wide...But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate."
From a marketing perspective, we are seeing advertisers delivering on creating meaningful and engaging content. Two examples that I really like are Coca-Cola's "Happiness Machine" and T-Mobile's Life's "for Sharing" video series.
In the first example, Coca-Cola seamlessly integrates the brand front and center of the experience by having the Coke machine be the hero and the focus of the happiness. T-Mobile has taken a different approach by creating content that is relevant and entertaining, is tied to a specific event, and in many ways has the brand take a back seat to the experience. While the Coke video only has 15 percent (4 million vs. 26 million) of the total views as the T-Mobile video, Coke may deem it more successful, as the brand integration is more prominent. However, even though the T-Mobile video is less branded, it succeeded by having so many people interact with the content.
The first step I always take for clients is to identify the business objective and then evaluate each channel's role in the mix. For campaigns that are more oriented to driving an immediate response, brands should continue to incorporate banners, but do it in a way that leverages better targeting and personalization through the integration of data.
Alternatively, for campaigns where the client is looking to build relationships and engagement, standard banners are not the best choice. In these cases, brands should invest in creating relevant and compelling content that will provide value -- entertainment or information -- to the consumer.
So, do I think display is dead? The answer is no, but we need to recognize that it's no longer a one-size-fits-all solution. Ultimately it's all about the business objective and where it fits into the channel mix to drive that desired outcome.
Jason Crawford is digital media director at Rosetta.
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