In the Pantry of Digital Advertising,
Not All Ingredients Are Equal
From 2014 to now, affiliate marketing has grown from 0% to 12% of all CPG digital marketing spending. Despite its meteoric rise, this tactic doesn’t dominate the digital positioning strategy for most brands. It still ranks below:
- SEO/Search Ads
- Social Media Ads
- Banner Ads
In fact, banner ads—those annoying, irrelevant and pervasive internet pests—are predicted to comprise 17% of all CPG digital advertising spend in 2023. This data is from the Cadent Consulting Group’s 2022 Marketing Spending Report.
There must be good performance data behind the ad type to justify the expense, right? Banner advertising agencies assert that this tactic is critical for building brand awareness. One agency claims:
“So, yes, there’s absolutely relevancy with the over 99% of digital ads that are not tied to a conversion. That’s all to say that clicks, video views, conversions and other metrics, whether they are proxies, or they are direct sales, should be strived for. What shouldn’t happen is a dismissal of the effectiveness of banner ads.”
If 99% of banner ads aren’t tied to a conversion, that’s worse performance than direct mail. For brands that are spending significantly on banner ads, they need to ask themselves:
“Do we want to position ourselves as a brand that is irrelevant and annoying? Especially when the results are so poor?”
Let’s take a look at some ad executions out in the wild to see how banner ads are used.
5 Digital Positioning Strategy Examples
Online recipes are a natural outlet for advertising. Cooks spend a significant time studying and using the recipe, as they ready ingredients and prepare the dish. Digital advertising surrounding recipes is fairly representative of most advertising on the internet. For our digital positioning strategy examples, I searched for a “red beans and rice recipe.”
There are a few specific ways that recipes are used as a means to drive revenue:
- The New York Times Cooking: Minimum banner ads, recipe is behind a paywall
- Food Network: Basic banner ads on a free platform
- Butter Be Ready: SEO-focused recipe, banner ads, video banner ads, social sharing
- All Recipes: Remarketing banner ads and targeted Walmart ad, with ingredients
- Budget Bytes: SEO-focused recipe, banner ads, video banner ads, social sharing, affiliate marketing
Digital Positioning Strategy Example 1:
Banner Ads Behind a Paywall
Most straightforward is The New York Times Cooking positioning strategy. The news brand generates this enticing content to drive subscriptions. If the user attempts to view more than one or two recipes, they will be prompted with a paywall. NYT also advertises seasonal recipes across social platforms.
Additionally, revenue is generated from sparse banner ads on the recipe itself. While not terribly intrusive, it takes the feeling of being a premium brand down a notch or two. And I can’t imagine the advertised car brand Polestar is really driving much interest, either.
Digital Positioning Strategy Example 2:
Banner Ads on Free Platforms
Food Network publishes free recipes to build the brands of its network and celebrity chefs.
Again, the basic banner ads are not offensive on the page. There’s a reasonable number of them. Again, there’s also the pairing of a food brand with a car brand, which isn’t a particularly well-targeted approach. It’s likely users don’t even register these banner ads as they interact with the content.
Digital Positioning Strategy Example 3:
Banner Ads on SEO-Optimized Site
The only way a small brand like Butter Be Ready can appear in search results alongside titans like The New York Times and the Food Network is through a laser-like focus on SEO. So, the brand specializes in that strange breed of SEO-focused recipes that tell the author’s life story before showing users the actual recipe. (If you want to make these red beans and rice, get ready to scroll).
Once the SEO-focused site brings in users, it generates revenue through banner ads and video banner ads. It’s a well-known positioning strategy, but smaller brands suffer from showing less restraint than, say Food Network. On mobile, ad coverage approaches 90% of the screen.
If this site is seeing any click-throughs, it’s likely they are accidental. The banner ads destroy the user experience. Plus, the advertised brands aren’t building any loyalty with the user who is simply trying to cook a recipe.
A Note on Video Banner Ads
Video marketing has increased to 8% of digital ad spend for CPG (up from basically 0% in 2014). Consumers by-and-large enjoy video content, and it has proven an indispensable marketing tool. But video banner ads are not the same thing at all. These ads bounce around the screen, obscuring the content users are trying to engage with. On mobile devices, these video ads make many web platforms nearly unusable. Creating a debilitating user experience will never result in a high ROI.
Digital Positioning Strategy Example 4:
Remarketing and Targeted Ads
Allrecipes is an established recipe aggregation site, and it doesn’t engage in the SEO-recipe approach. Its positioning strategy is to be a community for home cooks who want highly-rated recipes to make, save and print.
Its advertising includes banners, but these are targeted Google remarketing ads. The user sees less obtrusive ads for brands they are familiar with, unlike the scattershot approach seen with the examples above.
Additionally, Allrecipes offers a helpful integration with Walmart that promotes:
“Buy all 13 ingredients from this recipe for $28.66”
This ad is a hybrid between banner ad and affiliate marketing, and users may even find it useful. It’s certainly relevant to the customer experience.
Digital Positioning Strategy Example 5:
Budget Bytes is similar to Butter Be Ready but adds in the affiliate marketing piece. Towards the end of the page, users are shown affiliate links to Amazon and SideChef that directly relate to the recipe.
Further examples of affiliate marketing positioning strategy are easily found in the world of crafting:
- Little Crochet Lamb Pattern by Sewrella: The author directly recommends a specific baby monitor in the article, complete with pictures. Affiliate marketing with other brands continues on the author’s Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest profiles.
- Men’s Chunky Slipper Pattern by YARNutopia: Project is made using Red Heart Yarns, with links directly to product purchase pages.
Many websites that engage in affiliate marketing also feature distracting, dancing banner ads. It’s an unpleasant experience that will send many users packing. In this way, the website’s banner ad revenue is cannibalizing the affiliate marketing revenue. A marketer might wonder if the website’s overall revenue would increase by eliminating banner ads and focusing solely on affiliates.
It’s worth noting that the Instagram user experience is filled with ads, but they are all content-based, whether through affiliate marketing or directly from the brands themselves. This improves the brand perception of both the platform and the brands being promoted.
The prevalence of banner ads can only be explained by their historic popularity—certainly not because of their performance. Digital marketing has expanded to many better options, including affiliate marketing. It’s time to finally grow your positioning strategy past banner ads in 2023.