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With the sheer number of websites that I encounter on a daily basis I sometimes leave work feeling as if banner ads are the bane of my existence. That may sound a little harsh, but some of these ads can really get in the way. I’m left wondering why these gaudy ads are placed so oddly all over so many websites. Where did they come from and is anyone actually clicking on them?
Banner ads have been around forever. Well, to be more accurate they have been around for a little more than nineteen years. For a form of advertising that has been around for so long it must be incredibly effective, right? In some ways yes, and in some ways no.
Stop for a second and try to remember how many banner ads you have seen today. (This doesn’t even count how many you didn’t see because of banner blindness.) How many of those did you actually click? If the stats are accurate, it’s likely that you didn’t click on any of them. Nope, not even the fancy seizure-inducing blinking one. Allegedly, you are more likely to complete Navy SEAL training or survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad.
This makes me wonder, if almost no one is clicking on banner ads they really must not be very effective, so then why do they continue to exist?
The answer to this lies in the psychological concept of the mere exposure effect. This is a phenomena where individuals are more likely to prefer an object or person just because of how much exposure they have had to said person or object.
This concept can easily be applied to banner ads and advertising. Let’s say that you see a banner ad for a specific brand of running shoes on an almost daily basis. According to the mere exposure effect the next time that you are shopping for running shoes you are more likely to purchase the brand that was in the banner ads (even though you never actually clicked the ad) because you know that brand. The purchase would be made on the basis of familiarity with the brand, which was formed through frequent exposure to the banner ads.
Retargeting works in a similar way. Let’s say you’re online browsing for running shoes (again) and you visit a specific manufacturer’s site. You like the shoes but it’s late, you’re tired, and your credit card is a good five feet away so you move on. With retargeting, that manufacturer’s banner ad will appear on other sites that you visit. After a few days of being reminded about the shoes, you’ll return to complete the purchase or find the brand when you’re out shopping.
Banner ads don’t always translate to direct sales, so why do we continue to use them? Banner ads can easily be placed to better target your audience, and although said audience may not click the banner they are still interacting with your brand on some level and familiarity is being fostered.
Banner ads are also a relatively cheaper option compared to other digital marketing options. It’s a worthwhile investment given the likelihood that consumers will recognize your brand and in turn make a purchase based on familiarity. And let’s not forget, banner ads also help keep the content online available to the public free of charge.