Useful products vs. pretty campaigns: how digital design thinking can help fight against banner blindness

Recently we noticed a curious statistic on a high-profile homepage. We’d developed a banner for a campaign and pushed the offer at the top of the page. Despite this effort, a tiny text link below the banner (and dare I say below the fold) to the same content generated 3,000 percent more traffic.

This challenged the way we thought about the role of marketing. Why would users prefer an ignominious piece of copy to a campaign execution that was very pretty, consistent with the other above-the-line work (TVC and online banner placements)? 

Our conclusion is that people are suffering from fatigue. AdBlock (Chrome) and AdBlocker (Firefox) have over 40 million installs globally, and a socially connected customer base are wise to the ruse of traditional advertising. They’re tired of the rhetoric of the sale, and are seeking a deeper engagement. Banner blindness is a legitimate skill that digital natives are evolving to ignore the noise and focus on what matters to them.

While translating traditional media forms to the online space is having mixed results, there’s huge opportunity to engage consumers through useful (and delightful) online experiences.

Big Spaceship (a Brooklyn, NYC-based digital agency) sum up the paradigm shift well: “Your brand is the sum of your interactions.” 

We’ve known for years that great customer experience is a win for your brand, and should be integral to everything you do.

As Zappos chief executive Tony Hsiegh says: “If we’re serious about building our brand to be about the very best customer service and customer experience, then customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company.” 

Online, customer experience has traditionally been limited to the level of a brochure or catalogue; a functional piece of communication, but not always a loveable one. What’s exciting is that we’re seeing digitally-focused teams build better experiences by using customer service principles such as empathy, connectedness and meaning.

Last year, Springload was involved in creating the HomeHunter app in collaboration with Kiwibank. And, working with the customer experience team at Kiwibank, we reframed the problem:

We need a campaign to drive more home loan pre-approvals

– to –

We need to drive more home loan pre-approvals

Shifting the brief and collaborating on the business problem enabled us to delve into the needs our users have. What’s a property really worth? Which houses can I confidently put an offer on? By addressing user needs we could build a tool that has a compelling reason to exist and adds genuine value to our users’ lives. It’s straightforward to make some noise about a product you’re confident in. The campaign scripts write themselves and the results become more meaningful.

So why should you invest in a digital product instead of running a perfectly good campaign?

Users become advocates for your product

Word of mouth is powerful. Even in the inception of a product, you can think about what sorts of things you want your users to be saying about it: “This app helped me figure out who to vote for”, or “I found it really easy to find the right person to talk to”. Happy users will share good experiences socially, and drive motivated traffic your way.

You have more time to introduce your brand personality

Tools with a level of interaction in them (such as a calculator) give you longer to introduce your brand, tone of voice and show how your business is helpful, efficient and likable.

Users might also get a chance to see how your app (and by extension, your business) reacts when things go wrong. These micro-interactions can showcase a level of thoughtfulness and care that it’s difficult to achieve in traditional media.

Targeted content

Learning about your audience through analytics and behaviour in an application gives you the ability to serve up targeted content at crucial points in the experience. In HomeHunter, once the user has registered, it’s possible to see the properties they’re pre-approved for with Kiwibank. This helps with a painful step in the home finding process, and enables the business to tailor offers and content for a specific user’s needs. It also allows for continuity with the back-of-house systems, easing the transition from prospect to customer.


Campaign spend is often a one-off affair. The media is booked, the advertisement is shot, the banners are built, a campaign is run. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Building a product allows you to make improvements over time and build valuable intellectual property for your business and open up new revenue streams.

Digital design thinking requires the contemplation of the entire digital ecosystem, those that are interacting with it, and developing products that engage these users in a meaningful way. It challenges business to creating brand experiences beyond traditional means of simply good copywriting and beautiful art direction. It challenges business to develop products or interactions that have tangible benefits to peoples lives. And the results—loyal customers and consequent advocates—can be highly valuable.

  • Josh Barr is the front-end director and Ben Glazewski is the account director at Springload, a digital design and development business based in Wellington and soon to be Auckland. 

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