Banner Ads vs. Content Marketing: Balancing your online branding efforts

When I first began working on the Internet in 1998, we made hundreds of web banners. At the time they were technologically challenging due to extremely low file size limits (11kb for a 468×60 animated GIF – kids, I dare ya to try making anything relatively cool or compelling within those guidelines!) but were an integral part of page layouts and over time, came to occupy designated space all over any site that looked for ways to monetize their real estate. Today, banner ads are the digital equivalent of outdoor billboards you drive past every day as you do important things in your life, but never stop, write down a phone number or URL, or actively pursue the product or service – unless you have a specific reason to do so.

No matter how funny, creative, sexy or “experiential” a web banner may be, I’ve learned to tune them out, as have most regular Internet users. They usually represent so much sound and fury, and impose themselves in places I don’t want to be interrupted, I perceive them as visual clutter – but admittedly, I form and retain some awareness of brands I might not otherwise be familiar with in a rather subliminal manner.

Whatever their imperfections in marketing a product, banner ads in all shapes and sizes still consume a large percentage of web real estate and drive tons of revenue, and since Mr Google is an active recipient of the revenue, they won’t be going away anytime soon. This article makes some interesting observations on how online advertising has grown over the past decade, and what comes next in for web marketers – and I have to agree that content marketing is not only strategically preferable given the evolution of user patterns, but does more to reinforce brand identify than a banner ever can – a rare case in which words may be more powerful than pictures.

Content marketing is strong because people seek it out via casual searches, or take time to read and retain as they research a product or service marketed by competing brands. Since a user has voluntarily uncovered the information, they not only spend more time on it, they recall and use the information in decision-making. The process of discovery enables the brand to differentiate itself, and its products, from competitors and form a bond with the reader – the foundation of a brand relationship and subsequent loyalty.

The approaches and the results of these two online marketing techniques are entirely different – the only way to compare the two is by remembering that people learn in different ways and experience/ interpret the Internet in different ways. To maximize the value of your online branding and marketing campaigns, a “both” not “either” approach ensures you achieve the subliminal awareness needed to establish a brand identify, and the substance people seek when they truly relate to not just the product, but the parent brand and its family of products.

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