Banner Blindness: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Banner ads are often an easy and inexpensive option, but are they really delivering as much value as you think? Here’s what you need to know about the potential detriment banner ads can cause, and what you can do instead. 

For the last 25 years, banner ads have been a staple in digital advertising. They’re inexpensive, and they have a tried-and-true, safe feeling that can be tempting to choose. 

But, is anyone actually looking at them?

For the last four years, I’ve been conducting research and eye-tracking tests to determine the truth behind just how successful different ad formats really are today, and how phenomena like banner blindness may be impacting performance. 

Given how crucial efficiency is for performance marketers today, ensuring that resources are being put into the most effective channels, let alone not being put into unsuccessful ones, is paramount. Marketers simply can’t afford to misallocate resources.

Here are the pros, the cons, and the downright damage that implementing banner ads can cause, plus what you can try instead.

The good

Before I unleash a wealth of knowledge against banner ads, I want to recognize that they are often a low-cost, hanging fruit option. After all, there’s a reason why banner advertising is among the top four digital media types used by advertisers in 2019.

But, as we know, sticking with something simply because it’s how it has always been done is rarely the right tactic in marketing. 

This takes me to…

The bad

Banner blindness is the phenomenon of filtering out banner ads entirely in favor of other content on the page. 

Watch the heatmap in this video, and you’ll notice that the banner ads are entirely ignored, as if the reader does not even see them. 

As the reader focuses on the article at hand, they focus on where they assume relevant information is most likely to be. Since the inherent assumption is that this banner ad does not contain that relevant information, it is ignored entirely.  

In case you’re wondering if any of this can be attributed to simply focusing on what’s most central on the page, see another example here. The viewer ignores the banner ads both in favor of perusing the articles listed in the center of the page as well as the recommended stories on the left hand side of the page. 

All of this content is far more interesting and attention-worthy to the reader than the banner ad. As a matter of fact, it’s the reason why they came to the site in the first place!

In addition to lack of relevant information in banner ads, there’s another challenge of readers being conditioned from prior bad experiences. For instance, when a child touches a hot stove for the first time, they instantly feel the burn, sending a message to their brain to avoid ever doing that again. It’s the same when a reader has an irritating experience with a banner ad––they become conditioned to avoid them altogether. 

While none of this is good news for advertisers, it’s not the worst news yet. This takes me to…

The ugly

If it wasn’t bad enough that money is being wasted on ignored ad placements, banner ads can actually leave a negative taste in a reader’s mouth. 

When a banner ad is so disruptive that it cannot be ignored, and a reader turns their eyes to view it, the reception is rarely positive. Even if that inevitable view turns into a click, studies show that 50% of clicks are accidental, which further contributes to frustration and distaste. 

People rated flashing animations as most annoying because you can’t ignore them even if you try. It’s become such a common frustration that the Coalition for Better Ads has even banned them on mobile.

This negative experience can make a consumer wary of both the brand that created the ad and the publisher whose website they saw it in. And when that happens, nobody wins. 

What this means for marketers

It’s worth readjusting budget and strategy to make sure your audience is being served content where they actually are paying attention.

If you give the above videos another watch, this time focusing on where readers are focusing their attention, it’s quickly clear that what people want to look at is relevant content. They want to read either what they came to a website to read, or other pages being recommended to them.

Native advertising can get you the type of exposure you actually want to be getting, and the type of ad experience that feels organic and welcomed to a reader. And, the proof is in the pudding. Native display ads produce a CTR 8.8X compared to typical display ads. 

Create Your Campaign Today!