03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Banner Ads

This Tuesday banner ads turned 15 and Advertising Age did a nice write-up of the first campaigns. Birthdays are always a good time to reflect on what's changed and there's no doubt that banners have changed a lot in their 15 years. The majority of the first online advertising campaigns consisted of a graphical unit with some text, a simple call to action ("click here" being the most popular), reporting which captured the then novel, Click-through Rate (CTR) and a payment structure based on the number of impressions served (CPM).

Although it's fun to reminisce on life back in 1994, I can't help but think banners are exactly like most 15 year olds I know - they're awkward, they think they're cooler than they actually are, and they still have a lot of growing up to do.

While there's no denying that there have been advancements with what is possible within the content of a banner ad, the majority are still downright awkward. There's nothing graceful about the way a banner ad looks when embedded into a page of content. Even with the new behaviorally targeted and personalized ads we're seeing they still come across like the kids from the a/v club - relegated to some fringe lunch table begging to be invited in.

Another change we've seen over the years is the establishment of larger, more attention grabbing banners, from floating ads, to takeovers to pulldowns. These remind me a lot of the drama kids who are always singing at inappropriate times and starving for attention. They think they're hip and arty, but most of the time they're just annoying.

CPMs are still the most widely adopted form of payment structure for banners, but over the years more ROI centric models like CPC and CPA have been used as well. For banners to truly grow up however, they'll need to measure and quantify true engagement, not just overt action.

So what do you think? Have we made significant advancements in the past 15 years and what will another 15 years bring? Well, here's something to ponder. Another digital innovation celebrating 15 years this month... the web browser. From Netscape Navigator to IE to Firefox to Chrome and more, how does that advancement compare and rank?