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Online Billboards: What Are they?

Often referred to as "online billboards" or "awareness banners," branding banner ads make up most online advertising. Unfortunately, branding is the mostly commonly used and misused form of banner advertising. As such, it is responsible for the majority of failed web ad campaigns and has played a part in the demise of dot-com businesses. Here's why.
First, branding works by creating awareness and a shared emotional commitment to product or service. The brander's goal is to generate a positive feeling from the target audience that motivates them to respond to the brand.
Audience response doesn't need to happen right away because continued branding reinforces audience awareness. It keeps your company's image in the minds of people who might not be ready to act now, but who might take action down the road.
Branding was the first advertising model web ad campaigns tried, taking after traditional models of off-line advertising, such as print, television and radio. Before the click-through model was introduced, before any basic means of banner ad measurement, branding was THE standard ad type.
Big companies with deep pockets were the first to invest in branding ad campaigns. Smaller companies followed suit, mimicking bigger companies.
According to Jupiter Media Metrix, branding is the main campaign strategy for more than half of online advertisers. Today this strategy is commonly used in Web site sponsorship ads and email newsletters.
Some arguments for defending branding banner ad campaigns:
• They rely far less on click-throughs and focus on gaining exposure.
• They can promote off-line purchases.
• It's the best model for generating an emotional response — hopefully, a favorable one — from target audiences.
Branding can communicate to an audience on several levels and is a rewarding long-term ad strategy when used effectively.
Think of your favorite restaurant or TV show as a kind of brand loyalty. A truly great brand, such as Mickey Mouse, can transcend its own industry.
That being said, most companies using branding as a major means of online promotion simply should not be. Here are some of the main reasons behind many dot-com failures:
1. Branding ad campaigns are expensive to build, maintain and measure, and depend on heavy market penetration or reach. This means you need to purchase a large amount of ad space — impressions — over a long period of time with constant exposure. While services such as Engage or DoubleClick can measure results after an initial banner viewing, they are far more costly than analyzing click-through models.

2. Branding takes a long time. Awareness campaigns are the slowest to measure and require a lot of patience to wait for significant results.

3. Branding overemphasizes the emotional response. Often the traditional advertising methods simply don't apply to the Web. People don't use the Internet looking for a relationship with Pepto-Bismol. They want information.
Branding can be used effectively when expectations aren't unrealistic. Most companies don't have the financial means, staff or time to attempt a successful branding ad campaign. That is not to say it can't be accomplished, but it is the riskiest method.
If you still feel up to the challenge, here are some important tips.
1. Your main focus is to create awareness or generate buzz about your company, products or services, or an associated theme. Some branding strategies you may include in the banner: company name, logo, slogan or motto, or image or personality associated with the company.

2. Assess whether you're an established brand name in your field. This statement does not include what you personally think or what your associates or competitors think. This statement indicates your target audience's awareness of your company.

Does your brand have a positive effect on people who already recognize your name? (Positive effects could include bringing in new customers or maintaining a sense of market loyalty with current customers.) If it does, be sure to use it to your benefit. If you aren't sure, partner with someone who already has a good brand.

3. Plan to be around for several years. That's the minimum time it takes for advertisers, especially new ones, to build lasting brand awareness.

4. Purchase relevant ad placements. Find the high-traffic web sites your target audience visits before making a large purchase.

5. Avoid congestion. Watch out for sites with too many graphics, too many competing ads or hardly any open space. Too much clutter lessens the branding impact.

6. Combine branding with a click-through campaign. Combining branding and click-through campaigns will help you measure short-term results.
And don't forget: Your web site makes a more important branding experience than any banner ad can. Be sure to provide good quality and service to reinforce the branding message in your banner ads.

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