The First Ever Banner Ad (& How it Performs Today)

This is a blog post about the first ever banner ad (from 1994), and the results it got when I set it live again. The post answers 2 interesting questions:

  1. What did the first ever banner ad look like?
  2. If you ran the same ad today, how would it perform?

What was the first ad?

The first ever banner ad ran in 1994, in Wired Magazine’s online equivalent (‘HotWired’). The ad was for AT&T, and got an enormous 44% clickthrough rate.

Here it was:


Quite a strange ad, eh? The birth of a multi-billion industry. It was designed by a man called Joe McCambley, who today works for a company he founded called The WonderFactory.

Since then, banner ads are more commonly called ‘display ads’, and the display advertising market is worth billions a year. Here are a few stats:

  • In the USA alone, $15 billion was spent last year on display ads. (Internet Retailer)
  • It’s a growing market: 64% of businesses increased their display ad spend this year. (Econsultancy)
  • The average clickthrough rate on display ads is roughly 1 in 1,000. (Smart Insights)
  • The particular format of the first ever banner ad performs even worse than that, roughly 1 in 2,500 (0.04%).

When it launched, the first ever banner ad got an enormous 44% clickthrough rate, no doubt due to the utter novelty of it at the time. Today, the average display ad has a clickthrough rate of just 0.11%. And, among the multitude of different formats today, the format of the first ever ad performs particularly poorly with a distressing 0.04% (The format is very roughly 468×60 pixels, which is the traditional ‘banner’ format).

How does the ad perform today?

Having stumbled across the first ever ad, I decided to test it to see how it would perform today. Would it beat the 0.04% benchmark of today’s typical ad of the same format?

Let’s take a quick look at it again before we look at the results:


  1. It’s totally generic. There’s no way to tell which brand it’s advertising.
  2. Most would consider it pretty ugly by today’s standards, but it is extremely contrasty – it would stand out on any background.
  3. Aside from the ugly factor, it’s quite a creative ad. It leads your eye around nicely without any animation. The copy is pretty good too: a question that applies to every viewer, and a clear next step.
  4. Finally, there’s an interesting thing that you don’t notice at first: There is some subliminal text – look carefully behind the coloured arrow and you see it repeats ‘YOU WILL. YOU WILL.’ over and over in very dark grey text.

The Results

I ran the ad for a week, on Google’s Display Network. To keep things fair I decided not to target the ad in any specific way that may influence its success. Instead I simply picked some arbitrary keywords & went with the standard settings.

I didn’t put a landing page together for the ad either. I just pointed it back to the homepage of one of my own sites (a sadly neglected page that hasn’t changed in years), and I told Google to target it against the keywords ‘ecommerce consultant‘.

Here’s the graph of ‘clicks’ & ‘clickthrough rate’ results over 7 days:


As you can see there, it started off slow & built up a little bit. If you look closely, you can also see that the CTR (‘clickthrough rate’) stayed consistently over 3%. I’ve picked out the highest performing day there in the little callout box. As you can see, it got a massive 1.10% clickthrough rate on the Saturday.

Here are the full overall results over the 7 days:


Results Summary:

  • I spent £14.54 (roughly $20).
  • The ad was viewed 10,140 times.
  • It was clicked 75 times.
  • As a result, it had a 0.74% clickthrough rate.

0.74% would not normally sound impressive, but it’s hugely impressive remembering that this format has an average clickthrough rate today of just 0.04%.

That means it performed 18.5x as well as (or put another way 17.5x better than) the average 0.04% clickthrough rate for this format. Or, in other words: Well done to the designer, Joe McCambley. Almost 20 years after he designed the ad, it performed 1,750% better than the average for its format.

Incredible, eh?

Twitter Is Telling Google Not to Follow Your Links

Over the last couple of years, Twitter silently changed the way they treat any links you include in tweets. In doing so, they have given themselves a very nice competitive advantage in lots areas, but they’ve also silently taken away the ability for search engines to follow the links you post to Twitter.

Here’s what Twitter changed:

  • In the past, clicking a link within Twitter took you directly to the destination.
  • Today, any link you click within Twitter first takes you invisibly to Twitter’s ‘’ URL redirect. Once there, Twitter record various information about the click, before taking you on to your destination. All of this takes a tiny fraction of a second.

For example, clicking this link: will take you first to ‘’, where Twitter will record the fact that you clicked it, and then you’ll be moved on to the destination URL (in that case, a previous blog post I wrote).

This is a very clever, simple way of allowing Twitter to gather piles of data on which links are most popular, who shares them, who clicks them, etc. As an illustration of how big this is, as a result of this Alexa treats ‘’ as the 66th most popular website in the world.

The Oddity

The oddity here is this – the robots.txt file Twitter have created to tell all search engines what they can/cannot do with links (


Roughly translated into English, the first 2 lines there say:

  • “TwitterBot, there is nothing you are disallowed from crawling.” (ie. Twitterbot is allowed to crawl everything)

The second block of 2 lines says:

  • “All other bots: You are disallowed from crawling anything.” (ie. Unless you’re “Twitterbot”, you are not allowed to crawl anything at all on

Twitter could make this information available in other ways – for example via their API – but they famously cut off Google from full access to this.

So What?

This is sensible from Twitter’s point of view, as it means they don’t have Google and other search engines crawling every URL posted to Twitter, eating their bandwidth.

But from a website owner’s point of view, and a user point of view, it means that Twitter have blocked Google (and any other search engine) from following the links you post to Twitter.

#RoundUpYourMates – Did Guinness’s Ad Experiment Backfire?

Guinness, one of the world’s most well-known brands, just carried out a fairly interesting ad campaign. One that looks to have sprung forth from concepts like ‘integrating online & offline’, ‘content marketing’, ‘earned media’, and lots of other buzzphrases.

Here’s what they did:

  1. Bought up all of the ad space during one of the UK’s most popular TV talk shows.
  2. Paid the talk show host himself to front their ads. (Jonathan Ross – ‘@wossy’ on Twitter – a very well known man, with almost 3.5 million followers).
  3. They made the ads themselves advertorial – ie. the breaks from the TV ‘content’ were branded ‘content’ themselves.
  4. They hauled in a fairly well known comedian and an Oxford Professor to play talk show guests, cutting away to some scientific research they’d put together on the value of men meeting up with other men in real life. (note: they’ve also published this as a ‘paper‘ – pdf format there).
  5. They ended all of this with a twitter hashtag as the primary call to action, and the spoken call to action “Search for ‘Round Up Your Mates'”.


Here’s how Guinness themselves trailed it. (note the ‘#RoundUpYourMates’ hashtag):


This was part of a £34 million push by Guinness’ parent company to boost the brand’s association with “quality”. All sounds like a fairly workable idea, doesn’t it?

Here’s the ad, in case you’d like to watch it:

Stuff they got right

Guinness has a huge amount of very successful advertising experience. They also have a long, long history of ‘content marketing’ (think Guinness World Records).

Here are some of the ‘necessaries’ they’d put in place to ensure this ‘Round Up Your Mates’ campaign had the best chance:

  1. They rank first in Google for the phrase ’round up your mates’. (they’ve run some previous ads around this phrase in the past)
  2. They had a few tweets scheduled to coincide with the ad, ,and had trailed it beforehand.
  3. think they had some promoted tweets around it to, although I didn’t screengrab anything.
  4. One of the celebs involved was chatting about it on Twitter too. (albeit somewhat sheepishly)
  5. They had everything loaded up on Youtube ready to support the TV slot.

But let’s take a look at whether it worked or not:

Here were the results:

The @GuinnessGB account, which fronted the campaign on Twitter had just under 3,500 followers before it went out, and had just dropped over the 4,000-follower mark 18 hours later.

And here were just a few of the comments on Twitter:


Fair enough – not everyone’s going to like it are they?

Oh dear…


But surely they weren’t all negative?

And it was true – virtually every mention of the campaign was absolutely negative:

Almost everyone who took the bait of their #RoundUpYourMates hashtag absolutely hated it. I trawled through 1,991 tweets about it and there was only a handful of ‘neutrals’, and those that could be considered positive were essentially saying it had been misunderstood.

Summary: Not only was the response to the ad bad, the primary call to action was to search for the hashtag, which was utterly full of negative commentary.

What went wrong?

There were a few tactical things that went wrong – for example, the site they had ranking for this on Google was not mobile friendly at all – a big mistake when running stuff on TV. And there were some big things they got subjectively wrong – for example this was a 100% male-centric ad, run during a program with a fairly broad, mixed audience.

But let’s focus on the real thing they got wrong – at least according to the majority of the negative tweets: The Creative itself.

5 Reasons The Creative Didn’t Work:

1. Authenticity vs Astroturfing.

The ad was designed to appear ‘authentic’, but it simply did not feel authentic. It felt a bit like an author writing their own Amazon reviews: It was intended to feel authentic, and came off feeling anything but. It was plain to see that Guinness were behind it, nevertheless, it still felt like astroturf.

Alongside that – the ad centred around a group of 5 guys playing a football game, and the same 5 guys playing a game of 5-a-side on a roof somewhere. These are ultra-stereotypical scenes (not always a problem), but they were talked about out by an Oxford professor, and 2 comedians who we do not associate with football in the slightest, all of whom did not seem particularly genuinely interested.

They may have got away with all of this had it appeared more knowingly cheesy.

2. Context sync.

The first context mismatch was between the TV show and the ad slot: They ran the slot during a program that has a live studio audience. The ad itself used canned laughter, and was quite obviously scripted. The result was fairly jarring. Far more jarring than it would be with conventional ads.

The second context mismatch was between the ‘science’ findings (that ‘offline’ events are better for building friendships than ‘online’ events). Telling people ‘online is worse’ simply doesn’t make sense when you’re asking people to use the hashtag on Twitter, or visit your Youtube channel.

The third context mismatch was between the ad format & normal ad formats. Normal ads last less than 30 seconds. You have to be very, very good to get away with something much longer than that. As a result – as a few said on Twitter – 3 minutes 30 felt very, very long.

3. Brand sync.

The level of expectation is really high around Guinness ads. ‘Guinness advert’ is one of their top 10 Google suggestions for their brand, and if you asked someone to name 3 or 4 Guinness ads there’s a very strong chance they could do so – something that’s true of only a handful of brands. As a result, people expect their stuff to be very impressive. When it is underwhelming it feels massively so.

Their ads are also usually epic. This was anything but epic.

4. Sub-Pseudo-Science.

The ‘science’ presented via the ad itself was pretty poor. They used a ‘sample’ of 1 essentially: A team of 5 guys who played a computer game and then played a real life game of 5-a-side, with the aim of proving real life experience is better than online experience for improving relational ties. We had no emotional connection to these guys at all, other than knowing the stereotype. They were purely used to illustrate ‘the science’.

This felt even poorer as the ‘science’ part was framed as if watching 5 guys play 2 games of football (one virtual, one real) was enough to actually prove anything. If they’d run this across 100 teams, or 1,000 perhaps it would have worked a little better.

I feel a bit sorry for Robin Dunbar, the Oxford Professor they’d hauled in. He had obviously been convinced by someone that it would be sensible to present something very dumbed down, when really they’d have been better going the opposite way.

5. Lack of Value & Lack of Objects.

The 5th reason the creative simply did not work was there was zero value in it:

  • “Offline activity” builds relationships better than “Online activity” is self evident. Very few would disagree and. They would not be surprised by a tiny study finding it to be true.
  • Interrupting a TV show with a worse version of the same TV show also – according to many Twitter hecklers – simply devalued the TV show itself, rather than adding value to their lives.
  • And – on Twitter itself, if you followed their call to action to search for ‘#RoundUpYourMates’, you did not find anything valuable: A link to videos of more of the same, some pre-scheduled tweets from @GuinnessGB, lots of people talking about how bad the ad was.

Alongside this, there were no ‘objects’. When people talk about Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor on Twitter, they are talking about particular acts, or particular occurrences. With this, we had a vague finding that “Offline is better than Online”. No interesting stats. Nothing unexpected. Nothing unresolved. No spectacle. There was no ‘object’ to talk about. And, as a result of that void, they essentially sent thousands of people off to Twitter to complain about their ad.

Redeeming Features?

Were there any redeeming features of the ad? If I’m honest I’m not sure. It certainly cost a lot, and didn’t quite work. If any, I’d suggest the following may be redeeming features:

  1. Complaints about the ad itself do not necessarily mean it did not achieve its objective. Guinness’ objective is to increase the perception of “quality”. They may well have achieved that, even if people hated the ad. (to measure that, you’d have to survey a sample of people before/after seeing the ad, or a large sample of people who had seen it and a large sample who had not, and ask them questions about ‘quality’ & guinness, rather than specifically about the ad itself).
  2.  It proves you can nudge people to talk about you via advertising – even if they’re saying negative stuff. Admittedly, plenty have already proved that. And Guinness themselves – whose last ad has more than 4 million views on Youtube – have proved it themselves too.
  3. In the main: People dislike advertising (or say they dislike it). It’s difficult to get away with telling people to talk about your ad and not have them talk about it in negative terms.
  4. It’s pretty clear from the many, many Twitter comments that the failure here was down to execution. That’s something that’s very, very testable, and thus they can avoid similar failures in future by better testing. Slightly ironic, as the advertorial itself was based around testing hypotheses.

Thanks to Guinness for trying this out – it’s always good to see people trying out different things.

And, if you have any comments or thoughts, do leave a comment.