Traditional Banner Ads: First Against the Wall When the Revolution Comes

For a dedicated college user like myself, it sometimes feels like the marketing and tech world woke up one morning suddenly, collectively discovered Facebook.  In the past few months, especially since the addition of Facebook’s F8 platform, finding the most effective advertising model on Facebook has become the holy grail of online marketing.

Once upon a time, advertising on Facebook was restricted to side banner ads (flyers) and banners at the bottom of the page.  Advertisers, eager to capitalize on the site’s popularity and growth, bought up these side and banner ads, only to encounter something in the neighborhood of a 0.04% clickthrough rate. Needless to say, most people were flummoxed – why would such a popular site generate such a low CTR yield? Robert Scoble at Scobleizer suggests that the ads are not clicked on because they aren’t relevant to the person:

“I just clicked on Ryan’s profile, hes into Running and Golf. Why don’t ads for running and golf gear get put onto his profile? Wouldn’t that make sense? He’s also a software developer. Where’s the Visual Studio advertisement? He’s into video games. Where’s the Halo 3 advertisement?”

Though profile-targeted ads is certainly an interesting idea, it doesn’t take care of the core issue – that users’ interaction with Facebook fundamentally clashes with the desired interaction with banner and contexually placed ads.  Most Facebook users treat the site like one would treat a messaging service: get in, check what you want to, talk to the people you want to, and get out. It’s a very one-track mindset, and users don’t have the time or interest to be sidetracked by ads – the ads don’t provide the same type of utility to the user that the rest of Facebook does.

Then, the revolution hit. Facebook released its API the last week of May, and outside developers were able to make applications, called widgets, for users to add to their webpage. Over the last month, thousands of new applications have been created, with users adding everything from the Washington Post political spectrum application to the iLike Music Challenge. This area is where advertising needs to be targeted – not towards slightly if at all relevant banner ads, but cool applications that do something for the user, are easy to spread virally, and at least generate passing interest in whoever made them. The key here is two-way communication with maximum convenience for the user, as emphasized in a stellar post by Dave McLure:

“i’m 110% convinced that consistent & creative app marketing & event notification via the Feed is the key to unlocking the viral power of Facebook, not the wham-spam-thank-you-ma’am app invites that everyone is whining about Facebook dialing back down. the available inventory of feed notification messaging for your app — that is, your advertising inventory — is essentially limitless AND free, assuming people actually keep your app installed and use it. as long as users have your app running, their actions combined with app events will create feed messages & notifications that serve as constant marketing opportunities for your app.

With that, it’s time for marketers to shelve their banner ads and find that real “killer app” that gets Facebook users hooked while doing their advertising at the same time. With popular widgets already out like LOLCats, it can’t be too hard.

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