4 Truly Awful Banners, And What We Can Learn From Them

Ian Lurie

First, I apologize. If you are the person who designed any of these, I know full well you created something great. Then your client came and said “It needs more text” or “I need to explain the entire history of my company in a 730 x 90 space”. And your dream project was ruined.

I am not being sarcastic. We’ve all been there. So, if you designed any of these banners, please don’t take this personally.

The Tiny Print

For some reason, financial companies seem to think they need to cram essays into their banners:

An awful banner
Another awful banner

If your lawyer is making you add all that small print to your banner, you have four options:

  1. Throw your lawyer in a closet;
  2. Modify your banner so you don’t need the small print;
  3. Put the small print (larger) in an interstitial between the banner and your landing page;
  4. Skip the banner, keep your money and buy yourself something nice. ‘Cause that banner just ain’t going to get it done.

If adding that tiny, unreadable print actually satisfies some obscure legal requirement, then don’t worry about redesigning anything, because clearly our society has failed, and we’re a few weeks from a Terminator-style Judgement Day anyway.

Lesson learned: Type used on a banner must be big enough to be easily read in 3-4 seconds. It’s hard enough to get someone to actually notice a banner. Don’t kill yourself by making your banner look like it’s written in Sanskrit.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Of course, once you persuade your boss to let you use big type and fewer words, she’ll want to put every product on the banner. That leads to our next phenomenon:

The Kitchen Sink Banner:

The kitchen sink banner

And of course, the ever present hosting service banner, that lists every single promise you’ll use to drive them crazy after you sign a 1-year contract:

Another awful banner

I am not going to read that. In fact, I just wrote down your company name on my “avoid like the plague” list.

Lesson learned: Banners are one of the few places where you need to place branding and design ahead of content. Gasp. There, I said it.

Understand a banner’s purpose

A banner ad is 80% branding, 20% direct marketing. That’s all you can hope for.

Banners really don’t get clicked much. So they need to look good enough to be a positive reflection on your brand. Treat them like a billboard. What would you put on a billboard that folks will drive by at 60 miles an hour? That’s what you should put on the banner, too.

That way, when folks glance quickly at a banner and forget about it, the 1% they remember – their impression of your brand – will be positive.

You’ll probably see a truly awful banner below, too. What’s up with that?

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See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

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  1. Hello,
    I suggest there is no such thing as a bad banner – there are simply banners that get clicked on and banners that don’t.
    If a banner is getting clicked on, then it’s a good one – if not, then change it.
    Obviously once you have a good banner, try and make it better and run A-B tests to see.
    As always 🙂 Free advice is worth what you pay for it 🙂
    To OUR success.

  2. @Robert In the world of affiliate marketing that may be true. But in the world of corporate messaging and marketing it’s very possible to have a banner that works for you but doesn’t get clicked. Think of all the movie promos that show up in banners. You don’t have to click on those to get the reminder “Oh, yeah, I want to see that”…

  3. I would say that “everything and the kitchen sink” is the operative philosophy where I work, but that would be indiscreet, and I am never indiscreet….

  4. By the way, Ian, thanks for acknowledging that it’s usually not the designer’s fault. It really isn’t. The poor designers I work with, oy! They wince at what they’re required to do. And they’ve become masters of the art of cramming 10 pounds of manure into a 2-pound bag. I don’t know how they do it…often they even make it look GOOD!

  5. I worked with a design team for almost 10 years and it’s true they are asked to perform miracles for companies that are clueless about good design. However the truth is they are the clients and successful enough to afford our outragous fees. If we wanted to become decision makers we would all be company presidents, until then we are “know it all” designers and happy to take the money. Low risk, High Stress, and Money to make the pain all go away. I love this country!

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