For twenty years banner ads have proliferated on the internet. Now, the ecosystem is seemingly disappearing, and so are these weeds. Journalists write their opinions and describe facts according to their point of view in their columns. Journalistic articles need a thriving ecosystem that allows them to live peacefully. They need to be seen and understood. It’s a matter of aesthetics, without necessarily arguing about the rhetorical issue of advertisers buying press features, and thus deducing that an article adorned with advertisements must have been commissioned by this system.


Real or fake advertising?
Banner ads, the first online form of advertising, have spread across our screens for years. The result? First of all, fake views of web pages must be mentioned. This phenomenon is defined as “botnet.” According to a study released at the beginning of December 2014 by the Association of National Advertisers, whose members include the main American advertisers, about a quarter of Web video ad views are in fact not generated by real users but by hacking activities with the aim of multiplying the audience and generating additional advertising revenue. “Bots can make it look easy to reach high volumes of specific audiences,” according to the report. Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the association, says: “We’re being robbed,” and, “If three years from now we haven’t made a dent in this you will probably see the beginning of the end for digital advertising.” Second, because banner ads are a huge revenue source in the digital world, a “genetic evolution of banners” must take place. The Web advertisement market is a gold mine in Europe. And because this mine is full, advertisers must find a way to evolve from a tool that, when it started, was successful but very simple, to a new, powerful instrument in order to get access to the gold.

From banner ads to native advertising
The first banner ads made their debut on HotWired, the Web offshoot of Wired magazine, on October 27, 1994, featuring spots for a variety of large companies such as AT&T and Volvo. The first banners were a resounding success, creating excitement among readers and advertisers.
In a document dated April 18, 2005, Kevin Colleran, one of the original ten Facebook employees and at the time its advertising manager, presented to advertisers the services offered by the company to target college students, which were in the first place banners. These days, after a twenty year history, the banner ad is finally in decline. That is because the Web, the medium in which it has thrived, is also in decline. Today we live in a mobile, social world, spending most of our time online using apps that load faster and are much prettier and more useful than websites.
Many of these apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, make money through ads that appear in users’ social feeds rather than off to the side of the page. Now things are changing. A new form of online advertising, so-called “native ads,” is taking shape and could become the new way to finance online journalism. These ads, which The New York Times is also experimenting with, look like ordinary posts on apps and social networks but, instead of being generated by private users, are
generated by companies. They are the evolution of print media’s advertorials, adapted to the digital age and posing a risk of erasing the distinction between sponsored messages and content online.
Native advertising, characterized by a concept similar to traditional editorial advertisements in the form of sponsored messages (videos, images and features), represents the bridge between traditional advertising and the user-generated advertising of the future.

Mobile is the future
Brand communication is shifting from online ads to mobile ads.
“With video consumption on the rise, telecom marketers are leveraging video ads to reach smartphone audiences in an engaging and intuitive manner,” says Saurabh Bhatia, CEO of Vdopia, a US telecom company. Moreover, “With larger and better smartphones and user access to faster mobile broadband comes a great opportunity for marketers to leverage videos for conveying the right marketing message.” Seventy-seven percent of total ad spend by mobile advertisers is on video and rich media ads. Smartphones are pushing the boundaries of telecom marketing. In the United States more than 85% of the 18 to 34 age group own a smartphone, and 34% of all consumers recall seeing an ad on their smartphone.

Focus on digital identity
Target audiences – consisting of consumers and readers/viewers – overlap in their interest areas, as expressed through their media consumption. More and more they blend and mix content they generate themselves with content they like and support because their digital identity is the new focus point. Successful native advertising is first and foremost designed to generate active user engagement – not just clicks or impressions as it was with banners – and that’s totally fascinating to marketers. This evolution has a double effect. On the one hand, creative minds can again become the authors of successful ad campaigns following an era in which messages “had to appeal to everyone.” On the other hand, there is the risk that content will be generated with less and less transparency. Consumers may not be able to recognize what is advertising (with the aim of selling a product) and what is journalistic opinion and analysis. The Vdopia report reveals that the primary objectives for most telecom campaigns, as they were for the old banner ads, are: product promotion (27%), proposal of discount/offers (29%), launching new products (35%) and brand awareness (9%). This communication attitude is in fact very down-to-earth and leaves very few opportunities for content that lies outside the interchange relationship between consumer and trademark.

Read the published version in Italian here