May 2015

"Hate" is a strong word. Used here with the word "fucking", it captures precisely how I feel about display advertising. And not for the usual reasons. I don't hate banner ads as a consumer. They're an (usually) unobtrusive means of generating revenue for content creators. That's why I don't use an ad-blocking tool. It's the broader industry I have a problem with. That no one seems willing to challenge the notion that perhaps banner ads don't work. This is not another article about how you're more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad (although apparently that is true). We know click-through rates are embarrassing. Here is what I fucking hate display advertising: The percentage of users with an ad-blocking tool is now in double digits (and growing). The percentage of impressions which are fraudulent is also in double digits. There's little thought put into formats (so the defaults are used). There's little thought put into networks and suppliers (so the defaults are used). Almost always, too much is spent on production. Even more is spent on rich media production. With each campaign, learnings are thrown out with the assets. Wallpaper is acceptable. Matching luggage is acceptable. There is a belief that banner ads increase awareness. There is a lot of talk about optimisation but not much of it (or even knowledge on how to do it). There's also a lot of talk about testing and learning without knowing how to run a fair double blind test. Or what a confidence interval is. Reports often cover nothing more than impressions and clicks. Impressions are an entirely useless metric to report on. There is little talk about visibility or unique reach. There is little discussion about what happens after the click. Rarely does a report mention, let alone analyse, how users behave on-site (god forbid if they actually complete a goal or convert). You are more likely to spot a unicorn than a mention of ROI in a report. 'Post-view conversion' is a bullshit attribution model. That's not to say all banner advertising is a complete waste. There will be an exception to each point above, and in some cases it can work. Performance media done efficiently and optimised can be very effective. I can appreciate a retargeting campaign as much as the next guy if you can prove results. Sadly, examples of smart people doing smart things are few and far between in this industry. But above all else, the biggest reason I fucking hate banner advertising (#19) is no one is willing to discuss the issues above. We're too afraid to have these tough conversations, let alone attempt to address them. Given how much this industry invests in display, I'd have thought it was a debate worth having....