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Show Notes

Don’t hide what you want people to do: is the advice that Al Rotches gives Paul and Rich about online advertising. Al has built a career on making banner ads for clients like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. On this week’s episode, we chat with Al about how he gets people to engage online with his ads. He shares his insights about the importance of ad placement and about why most banner ads are so horrible. He also gives us some advice on how big and what color the button should be on your ad. Hint: it should be big and red!

 

Transcript

Paul Ford It’s not this little thing that’s like [in high pitch], “Sign up now and we’ll give you three candybars.” It’s [in deeper, authoritative tone], “Click here for more information!” 

Rich Ziade [Laughs] [In deep tone] “Now!” 

PF “Get it on!”

Al Rotches “Get it on!” 

RZ “Time’s running out.” 

PF “Let’s go!” 

AR “Bring it!” [Music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down.]

PF Rich, this is a special one for me. 

RZ Aw! 

PF This is an old friend . . . who also happens to be a world class expert in a very specific thing. 

RZ Mm! We like experts! 

PF We do. This is someone who understands [music fades out] . . . the true, raw, red meat, hot, white center . . . of the internet. 

RZ Oh! That is an expert. 

PF This is perhaps America’s greatest banner ad developer. 

RZ Woah! 

PF And designer . . . This is Al Rotches.

RZ Al . . . Welcome to Track Changes. 

AR I don’t wanna talk cuz that was such a great intro [laughs]. 

PF So Al is talking to us from Austin on Skype. Al, lemme just start this way: how many banner ads did you make today? 

AR [Chuckles] Just today? 

PF Just today. 

AR Um. 

PF And it’s 1pm on a Wednesday. 

[1:22]

RZ Eastern. 

PF Eastern Time. He’s two hours early. 

AR I am going to guess that number is four. 

PF Ok. 

AR And I’m going to say I had meetings about other ones as well. So they’re not done but they’re talked about. 

PF & RZ Ok. 

PF So that’s before lunch. 

AR Oh absolutely. Yeah. 

PF This is a machine. This is an independently—this is a—this is a one man business. 

RZ Mm hmm. 

PF Who makes all the banner ads. Now—now, people are like, “Banner ads? Who cares?” 

RZ We talk less about banner ads these days. 

PF We do. We should talk about that with Al. But let’s just give some career high—high points here. Remember Barack Obama, President of the United States? 

RZ I do. 

PF That was Al [Al laughs]. 

RZ Woah! 

PF In a very real way. 

RZ The campaign banner ads. 

PF Yes, the ones that perform the best and got the most donations. 

[2:07]

RZ Ok. Ok. 

PF Al is a human being who lives at the very top of the funnel. 

RZ I—clearly. 

PF Al, what are your—what are the big ones? What are the biggest campaigns you’ve worked on? 

AR I think that uh Barack Obama both campaigns went well. Hilary Clinton was a—was a big one. 

PF Oh good. Good job there. 

AR Did not go as well. Yeah, thanks. 

PF Thanks, buddy [Al laughs]. Maybe you coulda put more red in the button. 

AR The ads did very well! I don’t know there’s a lot of big ones. I work for everybody. 

RZ He doesn’t discriminate. 

PF No, no. 

AR No, I don’t. I work for a lot of agencies . . . I work for a lot of direct clients. 

PF That’s what blows my—my mind. Like, our sales process is often 184 months while we get to know a person. 

RZ Yeah, his is like 20 minutes. 

PF Al, how long does it take to close a banner ad engagement? 

AR Oh you mean from soup to nuts or you mean—

PF Yeah from like, “Hey, I’d like to talk to you on the phone for a few minutes.” 

AR Til we’re done with the whole ad—

PF No, until you’ve actually like said, “Ok, I’m gonna get started now.” [Oh!] Until they say, “Yes, I’m gonna pay you.” 

[3:02]

AR It could be the next day. 

PF Ok. That’s a one day close cycle. 

RZ That’s nice. 

PF It just breaks my heart. 

RZ It’s very nice. 

PF What are we doin’? We should be doin’ banner ads. This is the other thing: 20 years of banner ads. 

RZ For Al. 

PF This is a career. 

RZ Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

AR Yeah. 

RZ He’s not ashamed of it, man. He’s—this is a craft he’s—he’s honed. 

AR I have! 

PF What was the—what was the first one? 

AR First one was for Columbia House Music. 

PF Oh God I don’t even wanna [Rich groans] explain to people what this was. 

RZ Don’t [Al laughs]. Just move on. 

PF Alright, so you’re puttin’ those up. Were you—you were a designer before that? 

AR Yeah, I was a—[chuckles] I was designing brochures for Reader’s Digest. 

PF Alright, so a little direct-to-consumer stuff goin’ on here. 

[3:38]

AR Yeah, but banner ads were brand new, I mean like when the person asked me if I did banner ads, I had never heard of them. Like, so it was pretty new at the time. 

PF And you just said, “Yes—” 

AR I said yes cuz I was very young and needed food

PF That’s also what a freelancer does. A freelancer says, “Sure—” 

RZ “I’ll figure it out.” 

PF—“Lemme—lemme—lemme give that a try for ya.” 

RZ Yeah and that time it was kind of the Wild West anyway. 

PF Any sense in your head of how many ads you’ve done in your entire career? 

AR Wow. Thousands? Thousands. 

PF Thousands. 

AR Easily a thousand. 

PF Ok. So I come to you and I say, “Hey Al, I am marketing—” Well, let’s—let’s do Postlight. “I have an agency and I need to [mm hmm]—I do Facebook ads; I do some Twitter promoted tweets; I do some Google stuff; and I—I actually think we should probably, you know, put some ads on some different properties. You seem to know what you’re doing, you report fully with a lot of ads. What—what—what—how do I start? What do I do? I want Postlight to be advertised in—in a banner on The New York Times.” 

AR Ok, what are we advertising? 

PF Uh—

AR We’re advertising your—your company? 

PF Yeah, our ability to do cool services for cool people. 

AR I think that’s possible. I think you need to find your placement in The New York Times. Like that’s not a frontpage banner ad, right? That’s more like tech section. 

PF But why not? We’re—

[4:54]

RZ [Scoffing] Hold on. Tech section of the paper? 

PF I guess so. Of the—of the website. 

AR Well, you’re not gonna do a run of the site! Like if I go to The New York Times every day—

RZ Yeah. 

AR—and I just wanna see what, you know, the President’s up to. 

RZ You don’t wanna see Postlight. Yeah, yeah, sure. 

AR I don’t want to but let’s say I do. If I see your ad it really doesn’t hold water. I have to say that 50 percent of what I produce is really up to where you’re gonna place the ad. 

RZ That makes sense. 

AR So that part is out of my hands. So if you’re calling me and saying, “We’re gonna do a run of the site,” I would first try to talk you out of it a little bit cuz this is not my part of the business. But I—and I would try to explain to you why your ad wouldn’t do as well. 

PF Why are most banner ads so terrible? [Al laughs

RZ Well, I was gonna ask the inverse of that which is what makes a great banner ad? 

PF Well, let’s answ—let’s do both. 

RZ Ok. 

AR [Breathily] Oh my God. There are many reasons why banner ads don’t perform well. If you’re placing your ads where people don’t wanna see them . . . or don’t have an interest in the topic that they represent, you will get far fewer clicks than if you are placing that ad somewhere where you’ve already got an audience interested in it. So [exhales sharply] if I’m selling a couch and I place an ad on the frontpage of The New York Times, I’m not gonna sell that couch. But if I put it in the style section, I’m going to get far more. So I think banner ads perform poorly cuz a lot of them are placed in places where you’re not gonna get an audience at all. You know, people do Run Of Sites everywhere. It’s not gonna work out that way. Um so—

PF So Run Of Site is when you take over a whole website with your message: left, right, top, bottom. 

[6:25]

AR Yeah. Yeah. Or if you’re just going, you know, “Oh, I want a general ad campaign.” And you pay some placement agency to just put them everywhere. It’s really about, like, making sure that your ad is—is mildly topical with the information on the page. 

PF Ok, so that’s—in order to—like, we’re aiming here—what I’m hearing you say is like, “Are you aiming to get people to just see the—see your logo, fine. Do whatever the hell you want. But if you want peo—”

AR Right. If you’re branding or—yeah. 

PF If you want people to click, you better be very mindful of where you’re putting that ad. 

RZ Requirement number one: put it in the right place. 

AR So—so if you’re annoyed by an ad that could be why. If you’re annoyed by an ad because it’s lame, if it’s poorly designed, let’s say. I mean, that’s something I obviously notice a lot of. So, when I go to a page and there’s something where I have to watch it like it’s a television show and wait for the punchline on it [Rich scoffs], there’s no way that that ad is gonna perform well. Like you were complaining that they’re flashy. At least that flashy is gonna get you to look at it. 

PF Mm hmm. 

AR I mean anything on the internet, if I go to any page, right? . . . I am scrolling before anything happens, right? As soon as I can I want the information I actually came to the page for. So you’ve trained your brain to not think about all kinds of things. 

RZ Yeah—

AR You need the banner ad to hook you before you—your brain has turned to the part where it says, “Ok, I’m gonna ignore like half of this stuff here. I just want—You know, I just wanna click, click!” You know I have to click off of all of these . . . pop-up windows and then see what I wanted and then get outta there before something else pops up that’s gonna—

PF Right, so you don’t want it to turn into a video game where people have to like make the things go away in order to see the content. So you’re actua—

AR Well, that’s not—yeah, go ahead. 

PF You’re actual job is to be more contextual and engaging and relevant than the content that’s probably appearing to the left of the ad. 

[8:15]

AR I—I don’t think this is rocket science. I think it’s really—you have to think about how . . . you approach the internet. People don’t really cons—people just turn it on and go. But like if you actually take a step back and realize, in my position, that I’m not going to look at the banner ad if I can help it [mm hmm], right? You have to get past that and actually say, “Ok, so what’s gonna make everyone actually take a look at this and enjoy this and react to it and click on it?” 

PF Wow, enjoyable banner ads. How long—[Al laughs] how long do I have? Like somebody hits the page, I got my banner up. How long do I have [right] before I lose them? 

AR I would say six seconds. 

PF Ok. 

RZ That’s a lot. 

PF So it’s a lot. I mean that does feel—

RZ I mean that’s a lot of time. 

AR Well. Alright! Go—go to a page and see how long it takes you to get to your information. 

RZ No, no, I—I—

AR Really! Just do what you normally do [yeah]. I don’t think I’m too far off. 

RZ No, you’re not too far off. 

PF Ok, so it shows up, I got a few seconds, the ad, I mean, what you’re saying is that there needs to be some kind of quality here used to convey some information and then . . . what—what else makes ads bad? Anything else? 

AR Poor design. 

PF Poor des—and quantify poor design, right? Like are we looking for aesthetics here? I mean, what’s the—

AR I would say there’s some aesthetics but there’s also animation. I mean there’s—in some cases I see a lot of throwaway advertising from major places. 

[9:41]

RZ So, wait, Al, help me understand this: can an ad be successful without clicking on it? I mean I—I’ve visited The New York Times once and the whole site—

PF Yeah [Al laughs] it was great. 

RZ No, hold on. And the whole site—

PF An article about my neighborhood. 

RZ It’s—I forgot to turn on my ad-blocker. The whole site slid down and then Steve Buscemi walked in wearing a 1930s [Al laughs] like mobster suit. 

PF Sure. 

RZ And it was just Boardwalk Empire and I—it had a little—I had to find that button to slide it back up, by the way, [mm hmm] I slid it back up, and I was like, “Ok, new season of Boardwalk Empire. I actually like Boardwalk Empire.” 

PF That’s an official IAB ad unit. It’s called the Buscemilator. 

RZ [All laugh] So, wait! I didn’t click on anything. 

PF Ok. 

AR Right. 

RZ But it’s—that’s a successful ad in my mind [mm hmm]. Right? I mean I’m not going—

PF Well, you got rid of it. 

RZ No, but I—

PF You didn’t click through to HBO but you actually interacted with the ad, you moved it up, you made—you looked at—

RZ See I struggle with this—

AR Look: it’s a successful ad. Let me explain why it’s a successful ad—

RZ See this is—yeah. 

[10:38]

AR So you guys are in the business of seeing numbers on pieces of paper, right? 

RZ Well, we do more than that, Al, but yes [laughs]. 

AR That’s your entire—that’s your entire business! [Laughs]

PF Let’s be clear: ultimately it rolls up to that. 

RZ Yeah. We just had a numbers meeting right before this. 

AR No, look: you’re asking me all about stats and what does what. Look what you just did! 

RZ Yeah. 

AR Look what you just did! You have a podcast, you have just re-advertised that banner ad! 

RZ Oh shhh—

AR Not the banner ad but the information in the banner ad. 

RZ Yes. 

AR So you saw an ad. We’re calling it banner ads. You saw something that said, “Hey! This new show—you know, this old show’s got new episodes.” And now you’re telling us all about it. So, yes, that was a very successful ad. 

RZ Al, help me out with this: I mean, are you—sometimes do you not have context? I was scrolling through an article in The Times about—and it was pretty tragic. It was about the torture techniques in Syria. It was just horrible. Just really bad and grim. And a Norwegian cruise line’s ad showed [laughing] up in the scroll. Now, you don’t have anything to go on there, right? 

AR Welcome—welcome to Run Of Site [laughs]. 

RZ What’s that called? 

AR That’s—that’s where—where you’re on the whole thing. So they were probably everywhere that day. 

RZ Oh. Ok. 

AR But! Like they don’t know—

RZ But that’s a bad scene, no? 

[11:45]

AR They didn’t know what the news was. 

RZ Yeah. 

AR They didn’t say, “Hey, we wanna be on the most depressing you have on the newspaper today.” 

PF Well there are systems like brand safety systems that actually do help with this. 

RZ Yeah, there’s a whole world actually around this. Do you sometimes not know where this is going? You just gotta make it awesome? 

AR Yes. 

RZ Ok. That’s tough. I mean isn’t that essentially Facebook? Like you don’t know what’s above and below? 

PF It’s gonna be grandma’s eggplant and below that like the Let’s Preserve Abortion Rights Network and you’re gonna be in the middle with cruislines. 

RZ Is that right? Like walk me through your thought process and around marketing and targeting people uh—

AR Ok. So my job isn’t targeting. 

RZ Oh, ok. 

AR You know, it may sound like this is all my gig . . . My gig is designing these and animating them to get your attention. And to get you to click, right? 

RZ Right. 

PF Here’s a thing that I always need help with, Al. Ok? Are you ready? And—

AR Mm hmm. 

PF—Rich, jump in if you have other questions to put on top of it. You put up a thing; you make a thing on the internet, it’s a product, it’s a—it’s a, you know, something you need people to subscribe to or you wanna sell something online, and you put it up, and you wait . . . You wait for people to react to it. Maybe you put some Google ads up or some Facebook ads, and thousands of clicks come through. Twitter’s even worse. Thousands of clicks come through. Nobody buys it. Nobody looks at it. 

RZ So the clicks are happening! 

[13:09]

PF Oh even there. How the hell do you get people to do things on the internet? 

AR Well, pertinent placement matters, and then getting their attention as quickly possible; promising, you know—

PF Ok, wait. Break that down. How do I get—I gotta get their attention. 

RZ Color! 

PF There’s 5,000 things going on a webpage. So what do you do? 

AR So get your message across . . . as soon as you can. You have to beat those other messages. 

PF But do it—what do I do? 

AR I would do something exciting with the animation. 

RZ Are they all animating these days? Your work? Kinda have to, huh? 

AR Mostly. 

RZ Yeah. 

AR I would say that I have mostly animated ads but you have a lot of spaces that don’t take those; you’re also judging whether or not to animate them versus the amount of memory allotted to the ad [oh interesting]. So you run into a lot of problems as far as cost of animation and weight of the file itself. 

RZ I see. 

[14:03]

AR So if you are running ads in, let’s say, a local paper . . . right? So let’s say you’re doing ads in Iowa for a candidate. You have all these local papers that you wanna drop banner ads into to brand out your—your politician [mm hmm], let’s say. You’re dealing with a lot of, like, kind of backwoodsy internet stuff.

RZ Ok. 

AR Right? Places that have flash listed in the guidelines for how to make an ad. 

RZ Yeah. 

AR You know, for what kinds of ads they support. 

PF Not so much flash anymore, right? When it’s—

AR No flash since like 2015, I believe. November 2015, October 2015. 

PF When you get the requirement that it be in Flash, you’re getting a signal that maybe these people aren’t like—

AR Oh no, right away we have to contact somebody [ok] because you’re—you’re getting like, “We can only take 30 K in memory ads instead of what—” You know, a hundred, let’s say or 50 would even be better, right? Because then you can’t put as much artwork in your ad. 

RZ I wanna cover one more topic, Paul. I mean it’s about to heat up for you, Al, no? I mean the elections are coming and all this stuff—I mean I gotta—I gotta assume you’re gonna get busy. 

AR Yes, I’m terrified. 

RZ Really? Ok. 

AR Yeah. 

RZ That’s a good terrified then. 

AR Cuz there won’t be a lot of sleep this year. 

RZ Ok [Al laughs]. 

PF So just—and it’s—you know—do you get Republican as well as Democratic candidates? 

[15:23]

AR I do not. 

PF Interesting. 

AR I picked a team. 

PF Really? 

AR You know you gotta pick a team. 

RZ Interesting, interesting. 

PF So the Republican—there’s another Al who’s Republican. 

RZ Oh boy, is he? [Al and Paul laugh]

AR No, there is not another Al!! 

RZ I saw him on 60 Minutes. 

PF There’s a parallel universe Al. 

RZ Well, this is what I wanna talk to him about are these like . . . I mean and they were very effective, right? They—they were generated ads, like single purpose to be displayed once that had language in them that was because, you know, with Facebook you can fine tune down to like . . . mood for the user. And what they were doing was they were creating these profiles and then they were essentially custom creating, auto-generating ads that had headlines and words and imagery that resonated with that particular person. And from what I can gather I saw a whole report about this, this is like that dude who was a nobody, worked for the Trump campaign who—who did this. It was very, very successful [right]. Like extremely successful. Thoughts on that, Al. And I’m guessing—

PF Do you ever asked to kind of create a template where people can micro target? 

RZ Pump—pump headlines into. 

PF Or like, you know, “Mortgages in your area . . . zip code.” 

AR You do get that kind of thing. Where it’s micro targeted and there’s a lot of backend programming on that. But yeah. 

RZ Where—where do you stand on that? Is it fine? 

[16:47]

AR I don’t—I did not read the article that you read about this dude. I find that does sound slimy [yeha] because, you know, when you’re striking a mood for somebody you don’t know what you’re getting into. Especially on Facebook where everyone’s announcing their cat died. 

RZ Yeah. Yeah. 

AR That sounds awful. 

RZ Right. 

AR But if you are looking for a mortgage and if I know that I’m looking for a specific loan and I see an ad with that loan available . . . I would probably be prone to be, you know, go to that company. But I would say, you know, this goes back to like how do you react to banner ad—

PF Well, where do you stand on belly fat? Like ads that are just hideous but work. 

AR Well—well—well let me finish with this one [ok]. You’re seeing something you want. I would hope that the advertiser . . . is being honest with people, right? Not—not giving them misinformation where they say, “You have this much money, I can give you this mortgage,” and it’s a lie, and you get to the site and that’s where you get, you know, great click through rates but no—no sales. So, that’s where I stand on that. I stand by the fact that as an internet user if I were to click on an ad, I would expect an honest response when I got to the landing page. 

RZ Ok, so targeting is just the way—I mean it’s part of the world now. I mean, I know your zip code, maybe I even know your income level, so I can target an ad towards you. 

PF It’s all guessing. 

RZ I mean, yeah but if [stammers] I mean I don’t know—

PF They usually don’t know that—unless it’s Google and Facebook, they actually don’t know it’s you you—

RZ I know but if [stammers] I mean Facebook, you could probably turn the knobs like, “Get me higher income people.” And I can show, you know, a mansion rather than a smaller house, alongside a mortgage ad. I mean not a mansion but a larger house, let’s say. At first blush that strikes me as gross but I guess it’s not? I mean you’re just advertise—It’s just targeted in a more explicit way. 

PF Well a lot of times, too—This is what we’re talkin’ about: the design is terrible; they look really bad [they look terrible]; those ads look like bad photocopies. 

[18:43]

RZ Yeah, even the fonts are kind of messed up and—

PF The belly fat ads. 

AR Those kinds of things, they, I think, gun for the dumbest of consumers. 

PF Ok. 

RZ Sure. 

AR I’m not the most int—I’m not saying I’m the most intelligent person in the world but when I see something like that [yeah, yeah, they’re aiming] I know something—They’re just pushing the buttons. It goes along with like, “Who falls for, you know, the prince of wherever? Calling you and asking you to loan him 3,000 dollars so he can put a million dollars in your bank account.” Like [Right. It’s a scam. Yeah. Right] who does that? You know, it’s really just a numbers game. So those sites—so those ads will be everywhere because they’re just goin’ for everyone. They’re just seeing [yeah] who’s gullible enough to go for it. 

PF Do you get calls from the sort of people where you’d be like, “Ah, I think this is a scammer. I don’t wanna deal.” 

AR Yeah! 

PF Ok. How can you [yeah] tell? How can you tell the scammer? 

AR So for some reason people who do that wanna commiserate about their great idea to fool everyone. So, that’s gen—A person who really has no morals usually has no qualms about explaining to you [Rich chuckles]—the fact that they have no morals. 

PF Oh so you like—they’re just like, “We’re gonna get all these orphans to give us their bank account numbers [Al laughs]. 

RZ Yeah, yeah, there’s a . . . growth and—

AR We’re not gonna say they’re orphans, we’re gonna say they’re dancers [right]. You know, like, they’ll—they’ll tell you [well they start collaborating with—they’re collaborating with Al and scamming]. Yeah they think you’re in on it in some way, right away [laughs]. 

RZ That makes sense. 

[20:05]

PF Do you get a read—sometimes when I’m looking at our inbound business, you start to pick up—like, there was a year when it was all Blockchain but rarely could the Blockchain people actually get through to the point where they wanted to start an engagement. Basically never. This year no Blockchain, all cannabis. Everybody wants to build a cannabis something app. Do you ever see that? Do you ever see like the requests? Cuz you get a lot of requests from potential clients. Actually sort of showing the way the economy is going. 

AR Absolutely. 

PF What have been some of the big categories? 

AR Well, politics. I mean, look: listen: politics didn’t happen until 2007. So now, you know, you look at politics, your—your advertising goes up and down like you were just saying I’m gonna start getting busy, right? That’s because you know when the elections are happening and that’s when it starts rising and falling but there was no such thing as these ads. As far as I was concerned, at least on the internet until Barack Obama started doin’ it. 

PF Ok. 

AR You know, now it’s everybody. Now you can’t run without local campaigns. 

PF So you are Mr. Banner Guy up and—until 2007 it just wasn’t on the radar and now [no it—] it’s driv—driving—one of the driving forces in the campaign. 

AR Yeah, it’s part of—it’s part of, you know, getting your name out there. Yeah. 

PF What’s the future of banners? Every time that I ask [Al laughs] anybody. Like if you ask people around ad agencies or in the, like, IAB, they’re always like, “Here’s these five new units that will take over the page and a voice will come out and a face will scream at you for 45 minutes and [Al laughs] everyone will be really engaged and then they’ll be allowed to click ‘Go away for 30 seconds so I can read the article’,” and then [Al sighs]. Yeah, I know. Right? And then what happens is there are over two trillion medium rectangle 200 by—or 300 by 250 ads everywhere online. Like, [right] is that just what—are we in the world of the medium rectangle on the right rail for the rest of the web? Forever? Or are things gonna change? 

[22:05]

AR I don’t see why it would change. I think we talked about this a long time ago where we were talking about . . . there are certain things that make the internet the internet. Right? So like that space, what else are you gonna put there? What—how else are you gonna take that prime location at the top of the page, the top right of the page where you kno—like that is where those things go and how are you going to fill that space with something that makes your site some money? 

PF Right. 

AR Right, so . . . you’re asking me a question where like . . . is there an answer? Like, right now, something pops up on your page. I mean my—my first reaction is command + w on a popup. Right? [Mm hmm] I’m—[stammers] I don’t have an adblocker cuz it is my business to know what’s going on [Rich laughs] in banner [laughing] ads. So I apologize for that but when—when something is infiltrates my entire experience on the site, I mean that’s all well and good for the—the numbers game for the site itself but as a—as a user I’m less likely to go to that site and use it. So having an ad in the—having some ads along your—your stream, you know, within the article, so like if I’m scrolling through the information I need and then there’s something politely across that area that I’m scrolling, I think that, you know, that works a lot better than something screaming at me for 45 minutes. 

PF So you really—you’re expecting, as someone who’s been at this, has seen a lot of change, watched the—the great transition from Flash to Dynamic HTML, who’s been in this business, if I told you that in the year 2029 someone’s gonna call you and say, “Can you make a medium rectangle ad for me? About my thing?” That’s not surprising you. It’s gonna be here ten years from now. 

AR Yeah, so every five years someone will explain to me why they won’t exist in five years [Rich chuckles] from—from the minute I started this career until like right now [laughing] everyone says that this won’t exist but it goes back to what you’re saying like what’s gonna replace that medium rectangle in the corner? Nothing yet. Right? In 20 years. That’s where the ad is. 

RZ We’ve been talking about articles but ads seep into, I mean, they’re in the Facebook feed. It’s like—

PF They’re on mobile. They’re yeah. 

RZ It’s like oxygen. It’s like oxygen for Facebook. 

AR Yeah. 

RZ When you get it in that feed. I mean it’s absolutely huge. So, that’s not [yes] goin’ anywhere. 

[24:25]

AR Digital ads are banner ads. I mean it’s all the same stuff it just becomes something else over time. 

PF Right. So that’s the—

AR So you’re right we’re talking about medium rectangles but really it’s all of it. 

PF Yeah I mean it’s rectangles. You know they don’t need to be medium [Rich laughs]. 

AR Sure . . . I mean now we’re adding a lot more video. 

PF Right. 

AR To your ads. You know there’s a lot more video experience. There’s a lot of animation. So you can create animations and they can be—like it seems like it was a banner ad but now it’s a video. 

PF Gotcha. What—what tools are you using to build these things? 

AR Well, you can use Google Web Design. You can use Adobe Animator. You can use—

PF Wait, what’s Google Web Designer? 

AR Yeah, it’s within the system. 

PF Wait, wait, hold on. 

AR I love that. 

PF “It’s within the system,” just sounds terrifying. 

RZ I think he means the ad platform. 

PF It’s like—oh so it’s like part of Google’s ad offering. 

AR Yeah. 

PF Ok. 

AR You can build it in there within their system. Or not. You know, you can use straight-up HTML5 to build those. 

PF Ok, so you can make an ad like you would make a web . . . site. 

AR Yes. But there are plenty of programs that you can use to build your HTML5 without knowing much about programming as well. 

PF Gotcha. Would you advise someone who wanted to get into this field to become a banner ad designer for a living? 

[25:40]


RZ You know what’s unusual about Al is he decided to just be the top of his craft in this box, no pun intended [mm hmm]. Whereas for many—

AR I think that’s an excellent pun! 

PF It’s a good pun. 

RZ Yeah [laughing] I think—right it just stayed—I intended to add that pun. But I mean for most it’s like, “Yeah, I did banner ads for two years and then I became a web developer.” Like that’s the—usually the narrative and what Al found was if you’re a true pro at this, there’s a profession here. Like a real profession. 

AR I mean I always loved advertising. I mean I really loved advertising [interesting] and as a designer, when I first started, getting to make decisions was not an option until like—for years later. 

PF It was like a junior designer at an agency. 

AR Yeah. 

RZ Yeah. Right. 

AR So, this was a step into being on the front line of advertising. Just creating it. 

RZ Right. 

AR Handling it. Making sure they worked. Making sure they worked well for people. Doing all that without, you know, a huge staff of people and people above me, and figuring things out and the internet was so new that you could actually experiment quite a bit in the beginning, and ads were so new in that environment that they weren’t as hated as they are now. 

RZ Well, I think, the hate settled down. I feel like an equilibrium has been reached. There was a day when it was just [in raspy, deep voice], “I hate ‘em! I hate ‘em all!” 

[27:00]

AR I think there’s acceptance. 

PF Well then there are websites like Fastcompany where you just can’t see the content. It’s like—especially on mobile. 

RZ See that’s just their own crime, dude. That’s not the banner ad people. That’s just them just not realizing how humans want to use their thing. 

PF Well that—that—you know, not being able to read the content is a bad signal. 

RZ Well, if something takes 12 minutes on Fios to load an article, something’s up [laughs]. 

PF No, that’s right. 

AR Yeah, I mean  like, the whole technology of these ads, I mean like I was mentioning video and stuff but because we all have such a high bandwidth on our devices now, the amount of information you can put in an ad is—is so much more than it used to be. 

RZ Sure! 

AR I did ads for the—for the navy a long time ago. 

PF Oh they’re fun. 

AR And they were HTML ads. They weren’t HTML5 ads. They were HTML ads [Rich sucks air through his teeth] that had pull down menus. 

PF Mmm! 

RZ Oooh! 

AR And you would have to build it in three sections. You know: artwork, artwork, pulldown menu. 

RZ Aggressive. That’s aggressive. 

AR And that was because you only—you could only give somebody 12 K in memory. Now you’re seeing that you can do ads that aren’t even video in 200 K. 

RZ Sure. 

[28:06]

PF What I love is there’s these limits on one side, and then there’s the page on the other and everyone’s like trying to optimize experience. [Rich laughs] Clearly somewhere in the middle, for the listeners, like a 30 K ad or even a 100 K ad should just fly across the screen. That’s nothing. 

RZ That’s not the problem. 

PF No, it’s just all the stuff in the middle. Something’s happening. 

RZ Stuff under the hood, all that tracking shit. 

PF There’s some bad stuff happening. 

RZ Yeah, yeah. 

PF So, Al, alright, look: I’m gonna ask you one question. Ready? 

AR [Sharp exhale] Yes. 

PF What color should the button be? 

AR [Chuckles] Red! 

PF Really?

AR Sure. 

RZ Absolutely. Of course. 

PF Just make the button red? 

AR How much red do you see on the internet like that? 

PF A lot. 

AR Well, no, like ok so we’re back to articles: a lot of red on that page? 

PF No. No, a lot of black. 

AR So that’s what I’m going with on that answer. 

PF How big should the button be? 

[28:53]

RZ [Scoffs] What are these questions, Paul?!? 

AR [Chuckling] You know what? That’s a good question. 

PF Thank you! 

AR Big. 

PF Big. 

AR The answer is big. The answer is don’t hide what you want people to do. 

PF Ok. 

RZ That’s great advice. 

PF We need to start doing this with our business. 

AR Close the deal! 

PF Lemme practice it . . . Hey everybody who’s listening, give Postlight some money. 

RZ And we’ll give you somethin’ back. 

PF That didn’t [Al laughing] work as well as a designed banner ad. 

RZ We gotta practice this. 

PF [Laughing] We’re gonna keep workin’ on it. 

RZ Yes. 

PF Al Rotches, I have nothing but respect for [music fades in] your craft. 

RZ It’s a craft! It truly is. 

AR I’m crafty! [Laughs

PF If people need to get in touch with you, where do they go? 

AR Oh, go to aldesigns.com. 

PF That’s a good URL. 

[29:35]

RZ That’s a great URL. 

PF Al Rotches, thank you. 

RZ Thank you, Al. This was great. 

AR Thanks, guys. I’ll talk to you later. 

PF Hey Rich. 

RZ Yes, Paul. 

PF I’m gonna be a banner ad, you ready? 

RZ Go. 

PF Postlight! Blink, blink, blink. Postlight! Blink, blink, blink. Apps! Services! Web pages! 

RZ “I’m gonna stop reading this article on how to make a Manhattan.” [Snort laughs

PF “Click here to learn more!!!” 

RZ “And click on [chuckling] ‘Click here to learn more’.” 

PF Alright, maybe—maybe banner ads don’t work that great on a podcast but if you need us to help you build your web platforms and your apps and your sites and your big, complicated digital things that run on mobile platforms and on the open web, we are your friends. Send an email to [email protected] and we will do our very, very best to help you. Check us out at postlight.com. And we often have events. Go to postlight.com/events. You might’ve heard postlight.com in this conversation, that’s where you should go. Click here to learn more [music ramps up, plays alone for five seconds, fades out to end].