Banner’s birthday, social’s future?

Everyone say Happy Birthday to our favorite ad medium, the banner ad! Yes, on October 27th, the banner ad turned 15. It’s hard to believe, but in 1994, when the web was still only just graphical and DSL was unknown and downloads were at 24.4kbs (remember that?) the very first banner ads were launched. On Hotwired magazine, one of the first online magazines.

The advertisers? MCI (who employed Vinton Cerf), Volvo, Club Med, and 1800 collect. The click through rate of those ads? 78 percent (!!!). What would we do now for a 78% CTR?

Is this the future of social media? In 1994 the web was new and fresh and everyone from advertisers to agencies to consumers to publishers were excited at this (latest) new thing that was going to revolutionize the advertising and marketing world.

And people clicked like mad! For a while. Then…not so much. When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad?

Not that a company shouldn’t do online advertising, but in terms of actually creating new sales, banner ads have gone the way of the 30 second spot; something you need to do as part of the mix, but not something that you are going to necessarily be able to tie directly to sales (lots of technology and metrics not withstanding).

So, is this the future of social media? To go from a high-excitement, world-altering, new technology to something that just needs to be part of the mix? Honestly, I don’t have the definitive answer. But (come on, you knew there was a “but” coming, eh?), my experience tells me that it is really hard for anything to live up to the hype that SM is getting these days.

Is it cool? Sure. Exciting? You betcha. A innovative way to have B2C interactions? Yup.

And yes, businesses/brands will have to alter how they reach out to consumers and groups of consumers. Especially, brands will have to significantly change how they manage and accept risk, because as the conversation that is a brand moves more to a bidirectional dialog, the business side of the equation has to accept an increased level of chaos and lack of control.

Ultimately, however, people are still people and how they act is, at a fundamental level, probably not going to change dramatically due to SM. Brands will learn to use SM, just as they did banner ads, and it will become a known part of the landscape–familiar and comfortable as viewing a web page.

And not clicking on the banner ad.

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