Journey to Bannerania (2)

[November 6, 2011]

So far, my foray into the wilds of Bannerania has given me a fresh angle from which to assess the state of digital marketing. While there is much to be glum about, including bottomless swamps of mediocrity, there are also flickers of hope.

That is, hope generated by the mere fact that the better examples ever saw the light of day. In 2011, I’m astonished to say, there are still legions of marketers who subscribe to the “Dumber-Than-Me” school of consumer engagement. In this sector of the industry, nothing raises the specters of Terror and Suspicion faster than any ad object conceived with an ounce of intelligence.

“Sure,” this line of logic runs, “I understand it. But consumers? You must be joking.”

I gather this dim view of “the average consumer” is inculcated early. As such, it’s a form of cult programming that’s no easier to shake than any number of street-level opiates. At least, I have no other explanation for the proliferation of 350 x 200 panels of sheer tedium masquerading as engagement strategy.

Ironically, not even “the average consumer’s” complete indifference to such lifeless communication is enough to make “average MBA holders” challenge their biases. It merely spurs them on to lower the bar one notch more. “Click here now to find out why you should click here now,” reads the subtext of many banners. I’m surprised manufacturers of such nonsense are willing to acknowledge their audience members can even grasp the phrase “click here.”

After all, consumers can’t “click here.” Consumers can only click their mouse buttons. I mean, isn’t that confusing? As I see it, it follows from the Dumber-Than-Me POV that “average consumers” need more direction, as:

Use your computer mouse to move the on-screen pointer until it’s directly over the rectangular image resembling a button on an electronic device. Then depress the left computer mouse button with your index finger (Mac Users, see the below special instructions) and release. You’ll be connected automatically to a Web page explaining what we have to offer. Act now.

As I see it, you can’t have it both ways. If you accept the idea that everyday people can grasp the contextually-defined phrase “click here,” you’re in no position to claim they lack the intelligence to interpret—and be moved by—advertising concepts that steer clear of the obvious, the banal and the mechanically directive.

Offering real value.
Lucky for me, there’s reason to hope the tide is turning. At least in some quarters, in cases where the target is meant to be “millennials,” digital banners move closer to offering real value—the only thing that will ever motivate a consumer to engage. 

That is, not value to be delivered at a remote site by following a mind-numbing registration process, but value delivered right there in the banner. At the simplest level are banners like one posted recently by The Home Depot that allow actual catalog shopping within a tiny frame.

With the ability to sample wares in real time, users can experience the brand more efficiently than on a “K-heavy” Web page. In a similar way, a Volkswagen game banner celebrated in recent weeks by digitalbuzz.com, gives users something to do within its own confines. You’re right, it doesn’t include a price point, it doesn’t even include a product shot. Not to worry, that won’t confuse consumers. They’ll be too busy playing the game. Why? Because entertainment is itself a category of value.

The interplay of play and motivation.
Stern proponents of American Values aside, the urge to play is one of the most fundamental human characteristics. You need only think of the thousands of hours Americans devote to televised sports, TV game shows and, naturally, offline and online video games to realize the truth: Play, whether for entertainment or sacred observance is—at least in the U.S.—the number one engagement medium.

In light of that, the role of playful design elements in a recent Samsung banner makes perfect sense. When the topic is as dry as computer memory chips—components only a handful of electrical engineers could get excited about—Samsung made a smart choice. The chips, critical to the realization of digital gaming environments, were personified by an animated leopard users could engage in a simple game of fetch.

Earth-shattering? No. But, artfully done, the animation brought Samsung to life, by dramatizing how the brand puts “high-tech” at the service of everyday human needs. More to the point, it momentarily restored my trust that Samsung has the faintest idea that I’m a real person. Try getting that across with a traditional banner screaming, “Buy two, get one free. No one makes memory more memorable than Samsung!”


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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