25 Years After Its Debut, What's Next for the Banner Ad?

RPA argues for a 'people-first' approach

This Sunday marks 25 years since AT&T posted what's often considered the first banner ad, on Wired magazine's website. (It was actually one of perhaps as many as a dozen that rolled out on the site that day, but it's entered digital folklore as the most recognizable one.) 

"Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will," the ad promised—a bit optimistically, as it turned out. The banner ad has since become maligned like no other ad medium, with click-through rates that are abysmal and a user experience that tends to leave a lot to be desired (leading to the rise of ad blockers). 

RPA, the Los Angeles agency that handles Honda and Farmers Insurance, among other clients, believes banner ads can still be plenty useful—if they're deployed correctly. To celebrate the banner's 25th birthday, RPA has rolled out a series of four amusing videos showing the medium's evolution through popups, retargeting and more. 

Check them out here: 

But if the downsides to banners are painfully clear, there's an upside, too. 

"Just as it did all those years ago, the banner ad can be a highly effective form of advertising, both for the people seeing them and the businesses seeding them," RPA says. Looking to the next 25 years, the agency advocates a "person-first" approach to banners, which should include:

• Connecting with each person based on their unique shopping habits
• Respecting the context of the environment in which someone will see an ad
• Optimizing frequency so people don't feel deluged or start to ignore redundancy
• Breaking up complex messages into sequences of ads containing quicker, clearer points

RPA itself claims an accomplished history in digital advertising, starting with using the Prodigy Network to help launch the Honda Passport back in 1993 and opening a digital incubator soon thereafter. 

"Banners don't get a lot of love, either inside or out of the industry. But they have their place in advertising, and we thought that celebrating its 25th anniversary would be fun way to recognize all of the display work we do at RPA," creative director Lior Ben-Aharon tells Muse. 

The agency also believes banners have a bright future. 

"Today, in the age of programmatic and targeted display advertising, we're not just proud of the creative executions, but also how effective the ads can be when done the right way. We are skilled at reaching the right people with the right messaging at the right time during the shopping journey," the agency says. 

"There's still room for banners to improve. But we also see real value in how the banner ad can serve people through smart, nuanced retargeting. There's certainly a fine line between being harassing and being helpful. If we stay focused on taking a People First approach to banner ads, we can keep finessing them to make them more relevant and more valuable for the people seeing them." 

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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