The Rise and Fall of the Banner Ad

The death knell for the banner ad is tolling and few are lamenting its decline.

The death knell for the banner ad is tolling and few are lamenting its decline. Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times certainly isn't shedding any tears. The advertising design has for years assaulted site visitors with "Click Me!" shout-outs, dare ad tactics, and slow website loading times.


There's something to be said for its influence on the history of the web. For the past twenty years the banner ad has, in a way, dictated how the web has evolved. Back on Oct. 27, 1994, the website HotWired (now Wired) set in motion the advertising revolution. It had 14 companies launch banner ads on the site, which included MCI, Volvo, Club Med, 1-800-Collect, AT&T, and Zima. Wired recalled on the banner ad's sweet 16 that AT&T's first ad read: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.”

It was a success that allowed companies to monetize pages and expand across the web. The companies selling the ads could now know how many people clicked on the ad link or saw the page. This direct ad-to-purchase transparency led to advertisers learning how effective banner ads really were, and they weren't. This meant advertisers could get a seat at the top of the page for a bargain price. But in order for site owners to turn a profit, there needed to be a change in business model—page views became paramount to the success of the website. Traffic numbers became the life-blood of editors and content creators.

With such a rush to monetize the web, no one thought about any other way to create advertisements, until recently. Mobile has forced curators to be more creative in how they utilize this space—it's a medium with limited screen real-estate. If you go to your Facebook app, you'll see ads seamlessly integrated into your news feed as if it were part of the site.

Some websites have made a change, Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed has managed to integrate native ads in the form of sponsored articles on his site. He didn't want to see another site's speeds hampered and design ruined by a banner ad.

“When a site loads slowly, you blame the site, but it’s actually often the banner ad coming from somewhere else online.”

It's a new day of integrated ads that flow with the design of a site, rather than looking like an ugly outsider that disrupts the content of the page. The mad-rush of the early web is over, but it was an new device that forced innovative change. Let's just hope the “I dare you to click here” ads don't follow.

In his interview with Big Think, Jason Kottke takes his own view on how the web has created a "free" mentality, which has driven site owners to rely on banner ads that were a reliable source of revenue. But you should never stop trying new ideas.

Read more at the New York Times

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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