What the Heck Is Display Advertising, Anyway? And Who Cares?

It's mid-year ad forecasting season. ZenithOptimedia and PricewaterhouseCoopers have both issued outlooks that could be described as cautiously optimistic. Once more, online is expected to float slightly higher in the water than traditional media. Again, however, online is a mixed bag. Paid search will grow the fastest. Social networking will also grow. Video is reportedly still just around the corner according to analysts. But display advertising will shrink -- at least according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It is a wonder anyone can arrive at an overall picture of the health of the business with all the separate ups and downs projected within our industry. Why is it important to differentiate among advertising formats as if they were businesses unto themselves? With regards particularly to "display" advertising, what are we talking about? Banners? Leaderboards? Do the OPA's new, larger ad units qualify as display advertising? Yes? No?

Why is video not display advertising, or visa versa? What about in-banner video, is that display or video? Expandable banners...what are those? Is rich media display advertising, or is it different? Or, does it depend?

Is display advertising inclusive of behavioral targeting? Behaviorally targeted video is not display, I assume. Are behaviorally targeted leaderboards display? Probably. Paid search display ads such as Google is keen to foist upon the world: is it display advertising or paid search? What exactly do we think social network advertising will look like as distinct from display advertising?

Of course, whatever it is, who cares what happens to display advertising? Really, let it wither and die. Should we not be agnostic concerning ad formats and delivery? Arguably we should do everything within our power to ensure that video emerges as the standard given its ability to compete with the sight, sound and motion of television. Of course, it might remain as hard as it is today to populate the Internet with good video content capable of supporting good video advertising. In which case, what is the problem with in-banner video which seems especially user friendly, except that it might start out life each time as a banner?

Possibly, the pretzel logic that has us examining individual species of advertising within the online media animal kingdom has its roots in our temptation to bite the apple way back when in hopes of -- well, you know, knowledge. The Ad Age story on PricewaterhouseCooper's ad forecast quoted Alistair Beattie, head of strategic planning at AKQA London, saying something in that regard:

"Banners have been sold as a media where effectiveness can be directly measured by a click," he said. "If posters were measured by the number of times people reached over and touched them, they wouldn't be used. If you measure banners by clicks alone you are missing a trick -- we've made a rod for our own backs."

A rod for our own backs, indeed. All this energy on which ad units and formats are likely to trump the other, like one is the key to the door leading in -- or out. How about let nature take its course? Says Ad Age again about Mr. Beattie:

"...Mr. Beattie said banners should be measured through a process of noticing the effect on how consumers feel about a brand. He also warned that it's early. 'People talk about the internet as just another media channel, but it's not -- it's a social revolution, and the industry is still relatively immature.'"