Howard Gossage inadvertently explained how to look at banner ads when he explained how to look at billboards.
When Howard Gossage wrote about advertising, he was right about a good many things, but in an essay called “How To Look at Billboards” he was clearly wrong about the impending demise of the billboard:
“Outdoor advertising is most certainly an institution; but so was the open range. And just as the open range ceased to exist when private interest was no longer compatible with public rights, so it is with outdoor advertising. While it is unlikely that we shall have more than a smattering of midnight poster-burnings, it is inevitable that the billboard will eventually join such other relics of America’s past as battleships, running boards, the language of flowers, flypaper, and two-a-day vaudeville.”
What’s interesting about the essay to me, however, is what happens if you substitute “banner ads” for “billboards” as you read. The substitution is almost too easy. Literal highways are replaced by information highways, commerce is replaced by e-commerce. Like billboards, banner ads have become the scourge of the electronic landscape. No one really likes them, and they don’t work terribly well for the most part. But will they go away, as Gossage said billboards would? Probably not entirely, but a man can have a dream.