Traditional banner ads have earned their poor reputation. They result in very low click-through-rates (CTR), they're typically viewed as a distraction when they're not being totally ignored, and they're generally uncreative.
However, that's not to say that banner ads are completely dead. Some websites have put some polish on the banner ad concept in an effort to gain more audience engagement.
The Problem With Banner Ads
Believe it or not, banner ads are about two decades old. As a result, website visitors have become accustomed to them. That's not good news. People have subconsciously learned to tune out the very top of the page or the ads on the sidebar.
That's why traditional banner ads tend to be so ineffective and result in low engagement. People are more focused on the content than the ads, for obvious reasons.
The typical Internet user sees over 1,700 banner ads per month, according to ComScore. It's easy for those users to develop a resistance to paying attention to the top third.
It's not surprising, then, that you're more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad. They simply don't attract the attention that they once did.
Some publishers have opted for banner ads with a twist. They've put some creative solutions to the problem of ineffective banner ads in an attempt to generate better response rates.
Vox, for example, uses a large image that is revealed slowly as the user scrolls past it. It's ingenious because it follows the "curiosity gap" theme that's popular among some viral websites. It tempts people to look by only revealing a little of the image at a time.
"The Internet is the only medium where ads have to compete directly with editorial for users' attention. We're trying to give our advertisers their moment with the audience," says Vox Media creative director Chad Mumm.
Say Media has opted for rich content interstitial ads which are responsive in nature. That is, they are viewable on desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
"This approach is more intuitive for readers and lets advertisers keep the authenticity of who they are as a brand," according to Aziz Hasan, the creative director at Say Media.
Time.com, on the other hand, has opted for so-called "magnetic ads" as part of its website overhaul. These are ad placements that are coordinated. For example, if a user scrolls past an ad on the left sidebar, then the ad in the center might change.
Time.com wasn't the first to use magnetic ads. That honor goes to Citi. That company prefers magnetic ads because they allow advertisers to become more creative with their campaigns.
"The goal of any smart ad unit is to grab the readers' attention and then engage them," says Jed Hartman who is the group publisher for Time, Inc. He also says that the "rich experiences" that accompany magnetic ads allow the company to charge advertisers rates that are closer to video ads than traditional banner ads.
Just because traditional banner ads are not very effective, that doesn't mean that the whole concept should be discarded. Some companies have successfully implemented creative banner ad placement.