Awareness Is The Start Of The Sales Cycle

Banner ads don’t work. Of course they do.
That’s pretty much where the argument lies. Popular Web sites are chock full of paid banners, and the people who place them are in their offices crunching numbers to determine the return on investment, which is one of the more imperfect sciences.
Here’s what Alan Wolk has to say on the matter:

We’re still judging banners by click-through rates. Or using the negative click-through rate as proof that banners don’t work. We know that click-through shouldn’t matter, that banners pretty much serve to drive awareness and that no matter how much they move and dance and jiggle, no one’s going to click on them because they’re too busy doing whatever it was they originally went online to do.
But we are not the ones controlling ad budgets. And the people who are controlling ad budgets still view click-through rates as the Holy Grail and they judge both their agencies and the state of digital advertising on their vicissitudes.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Don’t blame the victims.
    The people who “control the ad budgets” were sold a bill of goods. They were told by digital con men that banner ads were far superior to traditional ads because they were so fabulously measurable.
    Then when the metrics on banner ads turned out to be a complete fucking disaster, the con men changed their tune.
    Now the digital hustlers are selling banner ads with the same soft nonsense of “awareness” that traditional ads have been sold for 60 years.
    The people who control the ad budgets are not the villains. They’re the victims.

  2. @Bob
    “Don’t blame the victims” is great advice, but I have a very hard time seeing clients as victims of some kind of online ad scam.
    As for awareness being “soft nonsense” I’m surprised to hear you say that. I know I want awareness for the David Burn brand and for the AdPulp brand. Do you not desire such awareness for the Hoffman/Lewis brand, and go out of your way to manufacture it? Do you not provide awareness for your clients, as well?
    A well rounded communications plan can’t exist on direct alone, or on any one marcom strain. Fruit is the goal, always. But how said fruit is tended and how the wine is made from the given fruit makes all the difference in the world. I don’t want wine that’s merely the product of science. I want wine with art in it.

  3. @David,
    Of course awareness is essential to the buying process. You can’t buy what you don’t know exists.
    But “awareness” is the first and easiest fall-back crutch for agencies that can’t get real results — like selling stuff.
    I am always officially skeptical when someone says their objective is “awareness.” We’ve all seen too many campaigns that created lots of awareness and didn’t sell a thing.
    In other news, how about coffee Saturday morning?

  4. Interesting debate. Banner ads are simply a tactic – one that may or may not be solid based on the strategy and desired outcomes. Were people sold a bill of goods about banner ads? Not necessarily. It’s the responsibility of those working in the industry (on both sides) to remember that there is no quick fix or magic elixir. At the time, banner ads were the new shiny thing. Today it’s social. In the end, they are all tactics. Focusing on strategy is key. Regarding awareness building as “soft” – if you look at awarness as part of brand development strategy, it’s far from soft. It’s business. It’s the organization’s promise to its customers, its employees, its partner, and it shareholders. And if these groups don’t understand the brand (which includes awareness and education) how can they be expected to deliver on it?

  5. The reason I call awareness a soft measure is that it is not a reliable measure of advertising effectiveness. It is primarily a measure of spending.
    Any idiot with a big budget can create awareness. Creating sales, however, is a different thing.
    When agencies use awareness to “prove” ad effectiveness they are often conning their client.