Banner Ads Are Bad Content

from the no-wonder-they-suck dept

A few months back, we started a series of posts on the topic of adveritisng being the same thing as content, meaning that if the content sucks, it won’t be very effective as advertising. So, it should come as no surprise that those who rely on banner or “display” ads for revenue are discovering that the business is hitting a rough patch. It certainly worked for a while, in the “gold rush” phase. However, these days there’s a ton of ad blindness out there — and that’s because most banner ads suck as content. And, before anyone brings it up in the comments — yes, we do have banner ads on this site — and that’s for a few reasons. First, while it may suck for the advertisers, it’s still lucrative for publishers (though, that can’t last unless the content gets better). So, we might as well take advantage of that. But, more importantly, it’s a tiny fraction of our revenue, and it’s been more useful from an educational standpoint than as a revenue generator. We’re certainly not relying on bad advertising as a business model, and have done a few small scale experiments in trying to try out some ad banners that are somewhat more useful. Still, I worry about the many sites that do rely on such advertising. Advertising has always been something of a cyclical market, and with so many companies now relying on pure display advertising, it may get pretty ugly. At some point, the advertising industry has to realize that simply putting up useless (or, worse, annoying) banner ads isn’t particularly effective.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Banner Ads Are Bad Content”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Squee says:

err, adblock plus on Firefox anyone? I dont see ads any more and if I ever do they are blocked so fast its like they were never there.

“it’s been more useful from an educational standpoint than as a revenue generator.”
Please explain how ‘you have 3 emails waiting for you’ or ‘you are the millionth visitor to this site’ is anyway educational? The flashyness of it all may be stimulating (and yet ugly as hell) but its not educational.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Please explain how ‘you have 3 emails waiting for you’ or ‘you are the millionth visitor to this site’ is anyway educational? The flashyness of it all may be stimulating (and yet ugly as hell) but its not educational.

Well, first off, we would never accept such forms of advertising, so that’s not what we have. Techdirt’s staff has turned down ads that we felt were unacceptable or disruptive to the user experience.

What’s been educational is learning how the ad process works, and understanding how different ad serving technologies work.

dssstrkl says:

Re: adblock

Don’t forget about adblock for Safari, too. I actually had to turn it off to see what Mike was writing about.
FWIW, the only reason why I use adblock on both FF and Safari is because I’m sick of ads that rely on flash and remote javascript that jack up my CPU usage and slow my browser to a crawl. Having a relatively powerful machine brought to its knees by intrusive advertising is not merely annoying, but abusive.

Sean (user link) says:

Re: Re:

There’s banner ads on this website???? Where?

(disable adblock, flashblock, noscript)

Still don’t see ’em

(start iexplore)
Oh, now I see ’em.

Maybe the market is starting to suck ‘cos internet users are starting to cop-on and starting to block the annoyingly intrusive ads?

Adds that say “Buy This” are fine, like they are in a newspaper or magazine. Adds that having things flying around, whirling, blinking, scrolling, trying to grab my attention – too annoying. Nab my interest, don’t steal my attention.

e.g. MS & Dell, OK not so bad
American Express – no thanks!

and now back to FF…

Chonno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m using IE7 with only it’s crappy popup blocker enabled and I didn’t know there were ads here. Turns out on my screen they only show up at the bottom of the page. I never get to the bottom of the page I just stop at the “add your comment” box.

I’m glad that ads aren’t your main revenue source. If Google ever read these comments they would realise that the ads don’t work here.

Brian says:

Consequently enough, this is the first time I consciously noticed the ads on the site. (Didn’t click anything, though. Sorry 🙁 )

I occasionally wonder what percentage of clicks per view occur out there. Obviously, the business is working, but I would have never thought it’d be as lucrative as it is. (As least on the ad server’s side.) I personally haven’t ever intentionally followed an ad link. The only times I really can’t just glaze over them (read: oblivious) is when they’re extremely obnoxious or pop open a new window over/behind my current one.

From the former category, I recently noticed one that even insulted me. It read, between some annoying flashing, “Are you dumb? You might be. Take the dumb quiz.” Aside from questioning the purpose of such a worthless site (which I can sadly imagine), I thought it was pretty idiotic for one, the site displaying the ad, and two, the business which produced the ad. I tend to find myself avoiding site with such advertisements if at all possible. (Which really just proves your point, at least in my case.)

It’s amazing how much production there is in the market. Without ads, 30 minute TV shows would last 24 minutes, web pages would load faster and I’d get 90% less postal mail and 99% less email. I’m surprised that the revenue exceeds the costs in all honesty. There certainly must be a lot of fools out there because so much advertising is incredibly superfluous and wasteful. Obviously people are responding to them, though. It seems to me that most businesses are doing things in ineffective ways (and sometimes even in a negative capacity) than serving them well.

My thoughts, anyway.

Alainn (user link) says:

If it’s because of the educational factor (what type of advertising generates clicks, at what time, giving higher priority to certain campaigns), wouldn’t it be better to use something like OpenX instead of Doubleclick?

OpenX gives the publisher much more freedom to run the advertising on their site by themselves instead of relying on costly 3rd parties, making it possible to run free campaigns for others or as a testbed. You could combine it with Amazon’s S3 if you have a short campaign but with a lot of impressions, making an expensive EDS hosting redundant.

G says:

free content?

I’m happy with ads being on the site and appreciate that if they weren’t there it would be more diffcult for the site to exist.

On the other hand, I’m not so naive as to think that full time jouralists and writers can live without money from the site and I’d be happy to pay a subscription for quality content if the ad business model fails.

Twinrova says:

It's about time, Mike!

See, I told you content and ads are not the same thing and I’m glad you’re finally seeing the picture.

Yeah, yeah. Banner ads aren’t what you were talking about in the first place, but I’m still standing on my point about mixing ads and content will ultimately fail because consumers don’t want it.

While I do agree it can be done effectively, it can not be done for all media types. Please research the “Stride” episode of “Smallville” for proof.

Another question I want to pose to you is why in the hell is there a Flash block on this site (upper left)? I’m not going to click the thing, but it’s getting annoying. Take it off, please.

Ads are something people are getting tired of dealing with. Back in the day, it was common to sit through them but now that they’re invasive, longer, and much more annoying, the ad-blocking software of the web and DVR skipping isn’t a coincidence any business should ignore.

Yet they do (points to the banner ads). I’m glad you feel these ads are educational for you, but most would rather see them gone completely, especially those that are “inclusive” to blog listings (which I’ll see the moment I hit submit).


I’m still waiting to see your picture perfect example of the marriage between content and ads. Sorry, but this site doesn’t really count because what you’re “advertising” isn’t what you’re selling.

Unless you’re selling ads about the stupidity of Corporate America, which would be classic irony of your customer base.

SomeGuy says:

Re: It's about time, Mike!

Uhm, I’m pretty sure Mike said that banner adds were content right in the subject. Bad content, yes; content of poor quality, yes. But content. So, I don’t see where he’s agreeing with you that adds and content are different. You seem to read your own opinions into Mike’s articles a lot.

I have seen ads that make for good content. My favorite are the “I’m a Mac” commercials from apple. They’re basically short little films that make fun of Windows and advertise neat things about a Mac. I actively seek to watch those.

I’ve never seen an add on Techdirt, I have Flash enabled, and I don’t use any special software. Just lucky, I guess.

But the final point is that Techdirt *is* advertising what they’re selling. What do they do here? They report the news, yeah, but more importantly they give their opinions and back it up with analysis. What is it they sell? That’s right, their expertise and analysis. So by giving away examples of their expertise in the form of these very useful commentary articles (and engaging in dialog throughout the comments), they’d advertising that they know what they’re talking about and if you’d like they can apply that to your own business problems specifically (for a modest fee).

I don’t see how it’s ironic to tell your customers, “you need help, and we can give it to you.”

Michael says:

Flashy ads

The worst ad I’ve seen was a 2 inch by 2 inch square block that flickered, flashed, and very quickly moved a tiny bit so it appeared to be jumping back and forth on the screen. It was one of these You’re the winner type of ads, and it became so irritating that I couldn’t concentrate on the article I was reading.

So I scrolled to the bottom and clicked on Print to get the printer version without ads.

Riley says:

Advertising: The noisy drunken party crasher

Advertising always gets its foot in the door by promising to be tasteful and well behaved.

But once it gets inside, it wants more. As quickly as it can, advertising takes on the role of a loudmouth, drunken, party crasher who noisily interrupts the conversations of others with its boring, pointless “stories”…

When that happens, I ask my friend Ad Blocker to help me escort the pest out the door…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Advertising: The noisy drunken party crasher

That’s just the sort of advertising that we’ve all come to know and ‘love’, though; part of the point is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Mike’s talked about the BMW ad-movies that were really popular, and someone above mentioned the Mac commercials. Both are interesting content in themselves, which also highlight a product without being obnoxious about it.

oregonnerd (user link) says:


As I recall, its origins were theoretically legitimate. This would have been about the time that newspapers had found an audience, so “yellow journalism” [the term refers to the cheaper paper the newspapers were printed on which aged quickly; nice to see tradition truly does remain on some things] can be given a rough startup of somewhere in the 1800’s; by 1850. The companies were going to give the consumer a chance to know about their products, and naturally they’d pay the newspaper (and the [think of some negative word; today it would probably be “blogger”] journalists to spread the good news.

Having said all this, it would be nice if there were a place where advertising was honest. …I must have taken too much medication. It would actually give me information I could use.

John (profile) says:


To poster #13: I can do you one better. Back in 2001 or 2002 (and, yes, I still remember this), Yahoo was advertising the latest Harry Potter movie. How did they do this? When I (or any other user) landed on the Yahoo front page (presumably to read what was on Yahoo’s site), a Flash ad would flood over the page, covering the content! An owl would fly over the news, kids on broomsticks would fly over the weather, something else would block the link to check e-mail, and so on.
I had to actively click on a “Stop ad” button to be able to check my mail!

If “content is king”, how much did Yahoo get to voluntarily have its own content blocked by an ad?

Anyway, back to banner ads:
I’ve always been fascinated by banner-ad campaigns. It seems like companies want to run banner ads on a site simply because it has “eyeballs” and “traffic”. Do the ad companies not care about what kind of traffic? Do they not care that they won’t get any clicks… and if they do get clicks, will anyone actually buy anything?

Or, in the case of the flashing “you’ve already won” banner ads, was this campaign designed to convince people that banner ads should be blocked? 🙂

I also remember when the “you have a virus” banner ad campaign was ruled illegal because it was panicking people. What kind of advertising company comes up with a campaign like this? Sure, people will click on the banner, out of sheer panic, but they won’t buy anything or download the product.

Or is that the real “product” of banner ads: delivering clicks without the needs for delivering purchases. I can only imagine the marketing department raving about how their banner ad got 10,000 clicks… yet the sales department only reported 2 sales.
Ah, yes, but this is the internet, where “eyeballs” are king and Yahoo can have a market cap five times the value of Ford or Nissan. Who cares if you don’t manufacture a physical product: just keep getting those eyeballs to your site!

Jakub Bednar (user link) says:

Branding Play

Off course it’s a branding play. I don’t think brands like Vodafone, Quantas and Bank of America would advertise on generalized sites such as CNN and other news sites if they didn’t think it was helping their “Brand” in some way or rather. It’s all psychological. The fact is someone would more likely remember the brand of a good banner rather than a keyword text link optimized for Google AdSense.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...