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Why Display Advertising Is Misunderstood and How To Use It More Effectively

Marc Holloway
Apr 13, 2021

Originally published in AdNews on April 12th, 2021

Like advertising in all channels, display ads can be extremely effective depending on what the businesses objective is. But display ads can also be a waste of pixels due to incorrect format choice, placement and most importantly, creative.

Why so? Oftentimes display as a channel is incorrectly lumped into the category of ‘acquisition’ channels. That doesn’t mean that display can’t be used for acquisition, it absolutely can. However, it does mean that it is often overlooked or mis-used to fulfill other objectives, such as driving brand salience.

Display’s similarities to traditional OOH

Similar to traditional outdoor advertising, there can be many different outcomes based on the format, location and creative message. As a last mile DOOH placement next to a grocery store, outdoor can drive conversion. However, just like you wouldn’t expect a large format OOH placement on a motorway to drive immediate conversion, you shouldn’t expect the same from a passive display ad located miles from the purchasing moment. Not everyone on the internet is on a shopping mission right now.

How creative makes display advertising more effective?

When display has been selected as part of a media plan, the overall objective needs to be considered when selecting the placement, format and creative. For example, if a brand is looking to interrupt in order to communicate a new product innovation, then a high impact format on select relevant websites could be used to achieve that objective.

Once the right placement and format is selected based on the objective, it’s crucial not to waste the hard work that’s gone into getting the media right to then ruin it with bad creative. According to Google Media Lab research, 70% of advertising effectiveness is derived from the creative. So it is worth paying close attention to it, especially in Display, where the average consumer views your ad for less than three seconds.

In order to get the creative right in Display ads, it needs to be clear, concise and relevant to have the best chance of meeting the marketing objective. Some simple yet effective strategies to achieve this include:

  • Use contrasting colors for the text against the background
  • Where you can, keep copy to five words or less
  • Make the message as relevant as possible

Relevant messaging can be achieved using dynamic creative to incorporate signals to tailor the message (e.g. audience demographics), context of the placement or external signals like weather or time of day. In fact, 71% of consumers prefer ads targeted to their interests and shopping habits (Adlucent, May, 2016).

Once the right placement is selected with the right creative in it, it is now crucial that the performance is measured using the right metrics. For building salience it can be tricky to establish a direct link between a view and a sale, yet this is how display is often measured; purely on conversion metrics. Overall brand awareness, brand lift studies, dwell time or hover time are more appropriate measures for the medium, and can be used to assess the success of such an ad. Then for “last-mile” (or “last-pixel”) placements that communicate a promotional offer, conversions can be the perfect metric to understand performance.

Like all media channels, display advertising can be nuanced and effective beyond the click when used correctly.

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