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Wall Street Journal: Does display advertising still build brands?

December 14, 2011

Straight Talk with Nigel Hollis posted in "Popular Stories from Around the Web" by the Wall St Journal

Sitting in our New York office the other week, I noticed a special edition of The Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) on the table. Leafing through it, I was shocked to see the following title: “Advertising on The Web: Is There Response Before Click-Through?” by Rex Briggs and Nigel Hollis. It is 14 years after the original paper was published and the excerpt is labeled “Classic.” In the fast paced online environment, can anything truly remain relevant that long?

The original JAR paper reports an experiment conducted in 1996 to assess the brand building capability of three ads featured on HotWired, a popular commercial web magazine. 

Needless to say, the experiment did find that display ads had an effect, improving brand saliency and perceptions. As best we could tell at that time, the impact of the ads compared favorably to the response to TV and print ads.

Given that Dynamic Logic’s AdIndex continues to demonstrate the impact of display advertising, I do not doubt that it still has a brand building effect. But we know that it is weaker than it once was. It is far harder to engage people’s attention, even if the number of people online has increased and the proportion likely to be interested in most product categories unchanged. Increased ad clutter, the rise of more interactive ad formats and an ad weary audience have leached the power out of a simple display ad, whether it is measured by ad awareness or click-through.

Back in the days of HotWired, online advertising was the new kid on the block. Today, the new kid is mobile. And just as before, the new kid looks pretty good compared to its older sibling.


Data released by Dynamic Logic in October of this year demonstrates that on average, mobile advertising has almost four times more impact on purchase intent than online. This may not all be due to the novelty of the medium. As the press release notes, mobile also benefits from the amount of screen real estate devoted to the ad. Online display ads, particularly those positioned at the edges of the screen, have always been far too easy to ignore (and the annoying dancing images simply layer on irritation to irrelevance).

So are online display ads still capable of brand building? Yes, they are. If you can reach someone actively interested in your brand or category you are likely to see an effect. But in today’s crowded and fragmented world, Internet display ads need to work far harder than they ever did before to make effective use of each exposure. What do you think?

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