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The exclusive online film series, "The Hire," at BMW Films.com was last year's advertising event. Winner of a Cannes Grand Prix and Best of Show at One Show, "The Hire" proved once and for all that, as a digital medium, the Web's versatility lends itself to pioneering advertising initiatives.

After years of fumbling in the dark, marketers are finally beginning to understand how people use the Internet and are creating programs that synch up with their online habits. "The Hire" is just one example of new tactics now being employed in an effort to reach people beyond the simple message-based banner.

For online advertising to succeed, it must either present an experience that people will want to spend time with or a service that people can use.

The Ill-Begotten Banner

It's amazing the banner has survived as long as it has. A sensation when first launched in 1996, it has been increasingly ignored ever since. Industry-wide overall click-through rates have plunged to around 0.3% and are getting lower every year.

Noble efforts to boost performance by developing more intrusive efforts such as super-size banners (leaderboards, skyscrapers, etc.), pop-ups, pop-unders, page takeovers and the like may be attention-grabbing but have failed to substantially improve overall click-through rates.

Furthermore, too many banner ads on a site can turn off potential visitors. According to eMarketer, 68% of Internet users think two ad units per page is too much, and 36% say they will leave a site if it has too many ads. With more Internet service providers blocking pop-up ads, the end of intrusive advertising could very well be drawing near.

The demise of the message-driven banner is not completely unexpected because it ignores how people use the Internet. Darting from place to place in single-minded pursuit of a task (information, shopping) or a diversion (music, games, instant messages), Web surfers may see a flashy animated banner out of the corner of their eye, but generally don't linger the five/six seconds it takes for animation to deliver its message.

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Alex Hendler Alex Hendler (ahendler@modemmedia.com) is a Creative Director at Modem Media in San Francisco, an interactive marketing firm whose clients include Delta, Kraft, Michelin, and Sprint.