In Defense Of Banner Ads

In the right hands, the banner ad is downright art, argues Dimitry Ioffe, CEO of the digital marketing agency TVGla.

A few weeks ago, we ran a post on banner ads’ nightmarish legacy. A rep for the digital marketing agency TVGla subsequently reached out to tell us that our post was not “just offensive, but actually wrong on many counts.” So we let them respond! Here, Dimitry Ioffe, CEO of L.A.-based TVGla, mounts a spirited defense of banner ads. Comments welcome.–Eds


The 20-year anniversary of the banner has given all the haters out there an opportunity to heartily proclaim death to the banner ad. We saw it here on Co.Design and even on the front page of the New York Times. It seems I may be one of the sole voices in the crowd to proclaim my love for banners.

Don’t get me wrong, some banner ads are bad. Like many of us out there I inadvertently twitch every time I get served an ad that has followed my cookie crumbs and suggests that I might be interested in the lounge chair or sisal rug that I might have looked at or might have actually bought. The automation of thoughtless and intrusive ads now proclaimed the Holy Grail by data freaks everywhere makes my teeth hurt.

But to suggest that banner ads are emblematic of all that is bad and evil in the advertising space–and a killer of great design–shows a basic misunderstanding of the format. Dare I say it, but in the right hands, the banner ad is downright art.

A Medium For Inventiveness

Display ads allow designers to experiment in ways they can’t with print and television ads. Take this 300×250 banner for Ikea. Some brilliant web designer was able to conceive of and create the smallest Ikea store in the world and put it in a web banner. All in service of demonstrating how attentive the store and its designers are to saving space. What’s really cool is how you can play with the mini symbols–check out the baby products–to reveal a whole department of offerings in one corner of the space.


Or consider this engaging banner ad for the Apple Mac in 2009 that brings the famous “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” campaign to the front page of the New York Times with a conversation that begins with PC Nerd John Hodgeman on the right side of the page, carrying on a conversation with the “before” and “after” hair growth academy guys on the left:

A Branding Tool

A common critique of banner ads is that they aren’t particularly effective: just 0.08% of all banner ads shown get clicked on. But there are other ways, besides click-through rate, to gauge success of online advertising, like an increase in search volume for your product or service while an ad is in rotation or an increase in web traffic to your site. I don’t expect someone to drop what they are doing and click on ads, but I do think they might be reminded of them later and that might influence behavior. That is how all ads work. Online shouldn’t be held to a different standard.

The Apple ad shows how important it is to see the banner as one piece of the marketing mix. The online element supports the television, print, and other components of what was a highly effective–and talked about–campaign for Apple. Display ads are not some kind of miracle cure, but can be a piece of the marketing plan. A report (PDF) from the Interactive Advertising Bureau in 2010 suggests that banners influence brand awareness, brand favorability, and sales.

An Easy Format To Correct

Banner ads are easier to correct compared with any other form of traditional ad. Last year, when Shaun White dropped out of the slope style competition at the Winter Olympics right before he was going to compete, the takeover banner ad we created calling out his appearance was able to be quickly adjusted with another companion unit. Try doing that with a print ad.

Breaking Through The Clutter

Advertising is about breaking through the clutter to design a good ad that people notice. When I read a magazine, I flip past lots of ads without looking. When I drive down the freeway there are plenty of billboards I don’t see. Watching TV I fast-forward through plenty of commercials. Online isn’t different. If you point to poorly executed examples of banner ads you can call them annoying. But when they’re good, they perform on multiple levels.


As brands continue to better integrate their marketing across channels and sites better monetize the value of their real estate, there will be more opportunities to create banner ads that elevate creativity and design elements in service of brand building. Vive la banner!


About the author

Dimitry Ioffe is CEO of TVGla, a 7-year old digital marketing agency in Los Angeles.