ReTargeter Blog

Attacking Bad Banners: Inaugural Edition

This is the first post in an ongoing series about ad creative, more specifically, terrible ad creative.  Banner ads get a bad rap, and often for good reason.   How many terrible banner ads have you seen?  You’ve probably seen more bad banners than good ones.  Many marketers look at online advertising as a way to get a ton of ads in front of a ton of eyes at a relatively low cost, and quality doesn’t fit into the equation.  Unmemorable ads are a waste of money, and truly terrible ads can lead to brand dilution and negative associations with the brand.  Even companies with solid product offerings can look untrustworthy if they employ bad banners.

We’ll be rounding up real live banner ads from around the web, picking one, tearing it apart, and then giving it a makeover.

Here’s our very first bad banner:

That is one terrible ad.  Why do we think this ad is unsuccessful?  Let’s break it down:

Whose Ad is This?

The lack of branding is without a doubt the biggest problem here.  One of the primary benefits of display advertising is its branding power; you can use your logo to make a strong a visual impression.  The vast majority of people who see your ad will not click on it no matter what.  It doesn’t matter how good it is, you shouldn’t expect clickthrough rates to reach 1%.  A traditional, run of network display ad will on average receive a clickthrough rate between 0.01% to 0.1%.   Even with retargeted ads, which tend to have clickthrough rates at least 3.2 times those of RON display ads, most people still will not click.  By failing to brand your ad, you’re wasting every impression that doesn’t click—well over 99% of your impressions.  Those impressions are valuable—they include users who might see your ad and later search for your brand or go directly to your website.   In 2010, retargeted ads increased trademark search (direct search for a brand by a retargeted user) by 1,046%.  That is not a trivial amount; the potential lift in trademark search due to retargeting is much higher than the increase in clickthrough rates.  It’s a massive opportunity, and failing to brand your creative erases it.

Vagueness Does Not Equal Intrigue

You may think being vague is a good way to pique users’ interests and get clicks.  You’re wrong.  Your goal should always be to improve your clickthrough rates, but this is not the way to do it.  You want ad copy to be short and to the point, as excessively long ad copy will turn readers off.  However, you need to provide some context and offer value in exchange for a click.  Savvy internet users are wary of scams and malware and will not click on something questionable.  When I see this ad, my first thought is, “Where would this take me?” and my first instinct is, “Somewhere I don’t want to go.”  If you’re not giving users any information regarding where the ad leads, they will assume the worst.  No matter how reputable your company is, leaving out your branding information looks fishy.

Call to Action?

The call to action should be the focal point of your ad.  The sad, underlined “Vote Here!” does not draw attention to itself.  This needs to stand out and get the users attention or you’ll never get a click.  Underlining the phrase is are not sufficient to make this crucial piece stand apart from the rest of the ad.

Here’s what the ad would like if our creative team had made it:

First and foremost, let’s make it clear that SurveyHost is not responsible for the previous monstrosity.  For the purpose of this blog we elected to make up a brand to give the ad some context.

I can tell you I certainly prefer looking at this one, but let me explain why we made the changes we did.


Even users who don’t click on this ad can remember SurveyHost.  The brand logo is clear, distinctive and makes an impression.  The ad is colorful, unique, attracts attention and is significantly more memorable than its predecessor.

Concise Presentation of Key Information

The copy for this ad, though still concise, provides significantly more information about the site and what the advertiser wants from the user.   It also offers a value proposition – take our short survey to find out what others say.  It offers a reason to click.  Clicking will provide me with some new information that I don’t currently have.

Big, Beautiful, Bright Orange ‘Take Our Survey’ Button

Now that’s a call to action!


Have you seen any bad banners lately?  Tell us about it in the comments!



Case Study – Watters

Watters Logo | ReTargeter

Watters is the brainchild of designer Vatana Watters. For over 30 years, it has been the leader in offering luxurious designer bridal gowns, innovative bridesmaids dresses, classic special occasion dresses for mothers of the wedding, and adorable dresses for flower girls and junior bridesmaids around the world. Selling primarily at trunk shows and in third-party […]

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