Be honest: when was the last time you clicked on a banner ad? No? Me neither. Display ads have become the wallpaper of the web, mostly ignored by or at best tolerated by users.
As part of our What's wrong with online ads? series, I spoke to Azullo, a 18-month-old Lancashire-based tech startup that sells response-based ad solutions built around its call-to-action "Respond" button. Future Publishing and Trinity Mirror are among its early clients.
Here's my chat with co-founder Guy Cookson and Tim Brooks, formerly MD at Guardian News & Media and a longstanding publishing executive, followed by some analysis from me.
What's wrong with display ads?
Whether Azullo succeeds in scaling its proposition to industry remains to be seen, but it's an interesting solution that puts evidence ahead of custom.
Eye-tracking studies show that banner blindness is real. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen first found in 1997, repeating his findings in 2007, that "users rarely look at display advertisements on websites." (Although other studies are available such as this from the US Online Publishers' Association).
In the face of such apathy, display ads are being designed to disrupt the web browsing experience - but studies have consistently shown just how much users don't like this.
Waste of space
As we discuss on the video above, in the old days of print, advertisers had to trust publishers and auditors - no one had any idea how much waste was in the ad economy. Online, we know - and it's a lot.
comScore this year revealed a study of 1.7 billion ad impressions which found that 31 percent of all ads were not viewed by anyone. That's due to slow loading, bad ad placement (e.g below the fold) and so on.
The result? Google's DoubleClick sets a benchmark for click-through rates of 0.07 percent - though some publisher directors speak of figures lower than that.
The big picture is that display is booming. It's on course to be a $40 billion industry in the next two years. Even though paid content and subscriptions are key, be in no doubt that display ads will continue to a major part of the digital media industry.
Although it's worth considering that Facebook serves up about one in four display ad impressions - 1.3 trillion of them last year. What have you got to compete against that?
Some businesses - Gawker is one recent example - are consciously moving away from selling banners as a priority, preferring instead to focus on selling access to an audience through discussion and sponsored posts. And who can blame them?
I've written a lot about the onward march of automated trading and real-time bidding which threatens to add efficiency and a scientific approach to ad trading. But aside from the CPMs and the economics of ads, publishers really need to think about the experience of the user and ROI for advertisers when it comes to display ads.
If sites are serving up irrelevant, disruptive, annoying, non-contextual adds, it remains a very open question how they hope to build a genuine online business.
See part 1 of the series - What's wrong with online ads? Re-thinking the annoying, intrusive video pre-roll