What happened to web ads?
By Christopher Gerber, Associate Digital Editor
June 14, 2013
Filed under Chris Gerber
The year is 1994. Less than half of a percent of the people in the world have a web connection, and Netscape Navigator hasn’t been invented yet. Trying to find a way to pay for its web writers, HotWired.com comes up with the idea of reserving a place on each page for a “banner” ad.
Despite the Internet literally being a Wild West comprised of computer enthusiasts and rocket scientists staking claims across the electronic frontier, AT&T decides without hesitation to take a chance on a completely brand new web advertising model.
The results? A 78 percent click-through rate for the one banner ad placement.
Comparatively, Facebook lists 0.05 percent as the average CTR of an ad on its social network. To clarify, the graphical ad performed nearly 1,600-times better when it was first released than it does now 19 years later.
It’s because an odd thing happens when companies decide to do something novel, said serial-entrepreneur Andrew Chen in a recent blog: It surprises customers. Do you remember the first marketing email you received? Do you remember the first SMS-text offer you received? Do you remember the first pop-up? They were all engaging in the beginning if only simply because they were new and exciting.
Then, do you remember how annoying they got? And then software and legislation followed, designed to protect consumers from the onslaught of pop-ups and spam emails. Do Not Call, CAN-SPAM, Adblock, third-party cookie blocking; all born from the initial success of creative new marketing tools.
As returns on one medium decrease, there’s always a hunt to find the next great idea. From phone calls, to web, to email, to text, companies are always hunting to find new ways to reach consumers. And today, well, they’re really hinging on mobile.
Mobile traffic is growing. There’s no doubt about that. More than half of the U.S. population now has a smartphone, with more ditching their “dumbphones” every quarter, and owners are rarely more than a few feet from their phone. But there still is a perception that mobile users aren’t engaged like their big screen brothers. The screen is too small. The users are too distracted. Every device is different. They’re just not as effective.
Yamaha paid no mind to that when it launched a new mobile campaign targeting potential buyers of the FZ-16 motorcycle. Knowing a little bit about its target market’s technology habits, Yamaha launched a mobile ad campaign that reached potential buyers and current owners with a commercial showcasing the bike and provided a way for owners to share reviews and videos of their bike.
The results: A 6.6 percent click-through-rate on the ad.
There is a perception that mobile ads are the least effective channel, but it’s also possible that it’s just being used incorrectly. Poorly designed creative and unengaging calls-to-action leading to webpages not optimized for smaller devices are just a few of the problems. The truth is that it’s easier to say, “the platform doesn’t work,” or “it’s just not effective for our business,” than it is to say, “it’s not working because we’re not doing it correctly.”
But, when you reach customers in a unique way, the novelty is often enough to get them engaged. Most of us probably clicked the first few pop-ups we ever saw. But, matched with clever, targeted advertising, not only was Yamaha able to reach the customer it wanted but it was able to engage them at a much higher rate than the industry average.
6.6 percent isn’t near the 78 percent AT&T saw in 1994, but it’s sure much higher than the 0.05 percent Facebook advertisers are getting now. Reaching the audience with something a little unexpected, and a little fun, proved successful for Yamaha. While those returns will inevitably diminish as well, it’s better to start now before they do.
So be creative. Surprise customers with something they’ll enjoy, and they’ll be unable to ignore you.