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Banner Ads That Push Boundaries


When I tell people that part of my job is building banner advertisements, I often get that look. You know, the “Seriously?! YOU are the one who makes those blasted things?” look. I suppose they think I designed the Omigod! No way! smiley face and the dancing aliens in LowerMyBills.com ads.* There are also a good number of my own peers in the design world who think it’s almost shameful to be stuck designing within such a medium.

Despite what the naysayers will continue to say, I contend that the banner advertisement is yet another art form of the 21st century. Banner ads are a very interesting challenge to the designer, with limits concerning file size, dimensions, and animation timing. With all of these restrictions, it seems like it would be difficult to make your ad stand out amongst the thousands of others out there. What’s a creative to do?

Luckily for us designers, the outlook for banner ad design isn’t as hopeless as I depicted it to be in the previous two paragraphs. That was just a lead-in. You see what I did there? A particularly interesting method for thinking outside the figurative box (while still staying within the literal box) is playing with the borders. Yes, the media buyers might be asking for a 300×250 ad, but did canvas size limit the modern art movement? Heck no, it didn’t!

With that, I present you with a few great examples of pushing the boundaries in banner ad design:

This banner ad is a simple, yet visually interesting example of how the 300×250 space of your average banner ad can be transformed into something more attention-grabbing. When placed onto a website with a white background, the slanted shape of the black background attracts the user’s eye more effectively than a straight 300×250 rectangle would.

This ad for Tylenol Sinus does something similar, using the 300×250 space as a setting for animation rather than a static space. The banner starts out smaller than the 300px width, and expands to fill the space when the line about swelling sinuses appears. Not only does this make the shape of the banner more interesting, but the animation of the borders is really eye-catching.

How could I write this blog without throwing out props to Apple? Their ads tend to be amazing most of the time, along with their media buys. Oh hello, New York Times, we’re just gonna take over your home page if that’s cool. Sure Apple, no problem. Anyway, this ad is indeed a cool one, and a method to inspire us, if nothing else. The illusion that the banner ends where the line is drawn, until the little green ruler and the flipping pages take over the whole header of the website.

If you ask me, these three examples deserve kudos. They have successfully used visually interesting methods to catch a viewer’s eye while steering clear of the “spammy” category. In other words, it’s classy, creative and respectable advertising. However, these three examples don’t even begin to describe the breadth of creativity that can be achieved within the medium of the banner ad. What innovative banner ads have caught your eye lately?

*Footnote: I actually find these ridiculous ads quite funny and entertaining, but that could just be me and my off-kilter sense of humor.