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How To Screw Up Banner Advertising

by Rob Frankel
Copyright 1996, Frankel & Anderson

Rob Frankel is president of Frankel&Anderson.
"Advertising, Marketing and Killer Creative"

Lots of people think that designing a banner ad for a website is simply a matter of dumping a few thousand pixels into a rectangle on a web page. Nothing could be further from the truth, and if you don't believe me, try clicking on almost any web site that didn't cost a hundred thousand bucks. You'll find plenty of 'em. But trashing tacky banner ads is a fairly easy task. It doesn't take a genius to list the worst mistakes that banner ad-creators make. And since I'm no genius, let's make ourselves a little list, shall we?

  1. OVERWEIGHT.
    Stop me if you've heard this before. Too many colors. Too slow to load. Too hard to read. Nobody wants to grow old waiting for your banner ad to load. In fact, most of the webheads I know will deliberately AVOID clicking on your banner because it made them late for a body-piercing. So stick to Frankel's Rule of Net Safety and design banners that will load and view easily with LAST YEAR'S technology. Personally, I design pages for people running no more than Netscape 2.0 on the equivalent of a 486 running at 66 Mhz and 256 colors. That means your art should still be no deeper than 8 bits. Unless you're a true minimalist and can bring it in at no more than four.

  2. UGLY.
    Hey, I said keep it light, not light on looks. Face it, people like good looking stuff. What works for Cindy Crawford can work for you, too. So if you're not a digital Da Vinci, find someone who is and pay them a few bucks to make you look fabulous. We do this all the time for clients, and it's not only effective, but helps send my kids to better schools.

  3. ITCHY.
    Maybe it's me, but I don't like to use banner ads for target practice. Sure, the technology is there to make little ducks swim across the screen, but after a while they make me want to pull out the old shotgun and take target practice. Frankel's Corollary to Internet Safety specifically states that just because technology offers you bells and whistles doesn't mean you have to use every one of them. Chances are that the average webhead has been through several sites before he gets to your banner. Give him a break. More importantly, give him some time to digest what you're displaying.

  4. ILLITERATE.
    No, not you. The banner ad. These are the ads that make you squitch up your face and twist your head trying to make some sense out of the illegible scrawls that some knucklehead thinks is cool. Let me tell you, pal, I don't care how cool you think it looks, if I can't read it, you've lost any chance of me clicking on it. And so far in my legendary career, I have yet to run across one client who slapped me on the back and said, "Hey, Rob, nice way you took all my money for that cool-looking banner ad that nobody clicked on."

  5. MISSING LINK.
    Your banner looks great, but isn't linked to anything. That's a mistake that any moron should be able to detect and prevent with a simple check. If you don't have any morons on staff, call me and I'll send you one.

  6. STUPID LINK.
    Your banner looks great. The link works...directly to a 404 message. Okay, so maybe this one isn't your fault. Maybe your client inadvertently forgot to tell you he switched servers. But even if it was his fault, who do you think he's going to blame? Wise up. Keep checking those banner links every few days.

  7. DUMB MESSAGE.
    The same things that make good ads make good banners. Unfortunately, the same things that make bad ads make horrible banners. If you don't know how to write and design a clever, compelling message, for gosh sake, hire someone who does. Nothing turns off potential prospects more than a really stupid attempt at being clever, an offense usually committed with the aid of a bad pun. Remember that your ad is a representative of you, containing a smattering of your personality and ability. If it looks dopey to a viewer, guess what they're going to think about you? Frankel's Theory of Advertising Clarity states: I'd rather be clear than clever.

  8. CODED MESSAGE.
    Your banner looks pretty, but nobody understands what the heck you're talking about. This is the numero uno mistake made by do-it-yourselfers. See #7 above.

  9. YAWNING.
    Your banner doesn't compel your recipients to respond within a certain time frame. Without a deadline, there is no immediacy to act, which means they scroll away until they remember it -- like never.


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