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January 15, 2009 / davebirss

How to do a banner ad – PART 1


I’ve foolishly decided to kick off my digital how-to guides with one of the hardest topics. And it’s taken me a lot longer to write than I was hoping – especially since my Mac passed away in the middle of writing it. It also ended up a bit longer than I was expecting, so I’ve split it into three easily digestible parts – approaching the brief, coming up with ideas and creative techniques. So without any further ado, here’s part one of my guide on how to do banner ads.

I’m assuming that you’re some sort of creative here. I’m assuming that you’ve just come up with a campaign and want to do some banners for it. Or that you’ve been asked to do the banners for someone else’s campaign. This guide is designed for people who are pretty new to do doing banners but hopefully there’s something in here for everyone. However, don’t hang around if you’ve been doing it for years and it feels like I’m telling you how to suck eggs.

Read the brief. Read the brief again.

Like any conceptual job, you need to know what you’re being asked to do. But with digital there are some slightly different questions you need the answers to. Here’s what they are and how they’ll affect you:

What banner sizes are you working with?
I think we can all safely agree that most banner sizes are awful. Your main ones are either long and skinny or skinny and long. But that’s just the way it is so there’s no point complaining about it. Start like you would with any other ad – draw out the dimensions and turn them into storyboards to put your idea into – or you could just download some that I’ve made earlier.

Where are the ads running?
Painful as it is to admit, people aren’t visiting these pages to look at your masterpiece. It’s good to understand what your audience is actually there to see so that you can have an idea of the mindset they’ll be in when they see your banner – as well as get an awareness of the other distractions you have to compete with on the page.

What file size do you have to work with?
Most of the time you’ll be working with standard ads. That means you’ve probably got up to 40k to work with. If you ever owned a ZX Spectrum in the 80s, you might think that’s loads – but let me tell you that in today’s digital world it’s bugger all. It won’t buy you much photographic imagery. And don’t even consider film. But you can do a hell of a lot with Flash in that size. You can do a lot more if you’ve got ‘rich media’ but I’ll talk about that later.

What are the mandatories?
It’s good to know what stuff you have to include in the banner. How big does the logo have to be? Is there a background image you need to use? All these things can have a huge impact on the filesize. They may not leave you with much to play with.

Where is the banner leading?
In other words, what do we want people to do when they see the banner? Just look at it and get the brand message? Click through to a product information page? Sign up to something? Download something? The banner is just the start of a journey and you need to know where it’s leading so that your message makes sense in context.

What’s the timing and budget?
It takes time to get animation right. And that obviously has an impact on the budget too. Ask the people who know about techy stuff how much you can get for your production budget and what that will and won’t allow. If you know you’re working to some pretty tight restrictions, make sure you keep your ideas within them. There’s nothing worse than coming up with a great idea, getting a client to buy it and then finding that you can’t do it justice – or maybe can’t do it at all.

I’m sure there’s some more points that I’ve missed. Please tell me if you think anything else should be included or if you think I’m talking out my trousers.

Read on for:
PART 2: A guide to approaching banner concepts.


Leave a Comment
  1. simiant / Jan 15 2009 5:25 pm

    another take on how to do banner ads would be:

    1. Ask you client if they really want to do a banner add.
    2. Ask them again if they insist.
    3. Explain to them what branded content / ‘brand as utility’ etc means
    4. Ask them again


  2. Dave / Jan 15 2009 7:46 pm

    1) Identify the problem people are trying to solve by visiting the page the banner is being displayed on.

    2) Design a banner ad that promises to solve that problem.

    3) land on a page that does solve the problem.

  3. davebirss / Jan 15 2009 8:45 pm


    I’m with you Nathan but while there’s still life in online advertising there needs to be people who can do it. It’s still so intrinsic to the revenue models of so many online companies that I don’t think it’ll be disappearing for a while. And the responsibility of coming up with ideas for banners seems to be shifting to the ad agency creatives. Which is a good thing IMHO.

    And Dave, your points seem to make sense but the ad industry works in almost a mirror image to that:

    1) You get told what you need to sell and what’s so good about it

    2) You work out who would be most interested in buying it and see what sites they hang out in

    3) You buy media space on those sites and get the creative dudes to come up with ideas for those banner spaces

    4) You cross your fingers and hope for the best

    However, I think I prefer your model!

  4. saminthemoon / Feb 13 2009 10:09 am

    I met a gut from Crispin Porter who said their mantra for banner ads is:

    Make it colourful
    Make it interactive
    Give it sound

    Mine is:

    Ignore it


  1. How to do a banner ad - PART 2 « The Dictionary of Specific Generalities
  2. How to do a banner ad - PART 3 « The Dictionary of Specific Generalities

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