Why Your Visual Advertising is Failing: Display Advertising 101

Why Your Visual Advertising is Failing: Display Advertising 101

Do display ads work? If you’re going by the number of clicks, the answer is a deafening no. In fact, the average click-through rate for display ads across all formats and placements is downright abysmal, just 0.06 percent, reports HubSpot. A January 2014 study found that Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds) were far more likely to tune out display ads on social media sites and search engines than they were to ignore traditional TV, radio and print ads, according to eMarketer. Worse, half of all clicks on mobile ads are accidental, reports GoldSpot Media. At the same time, display ad spend is expected to surpass search ad spend in 2016. So, what gives?

The Internet is flooded with visual ads– and most of them are pretty subpar. Sure, we’ve moved beyond those flashy banner ads circa 2005 that screamed “Buy Me Now” in loud, clashing colors. (Right?) But even the most attractively designed visual ads can still fall short. Effective ads align simple, professional design with compelling messaging and smart backend analytic refinement. These ads leverage the channel in a way that makes sense for a business’s specific goals and the target market’s needs.

Could it be we’re actually over thinking display ads? The ABC’s of the perfect visual ad are not rocket science. Here’s how to get back to basics and fix your visual advertising problems.

Display Advertising 101

Keep It Simple

Bannersnack’s collection of the best examples of display advertising all feature simple designs that harness the power of brand elements (like logo and colors) to build trust with viewers and drive clicks. Great ads speak to users. The harness the power of empathy to understand the target audience, what makes them tick, and what elements they respond to. The Apple Music ads are the perfect example of simple design that harnesses brand recognition and trust with a clear call-to-action message. Apple has already created plenty of buzz around Apple Music. There’s no need to explain how the service works. Here, a simple “Available Now” CTA works best to drive conversions.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Today’s savvy Millennials are used to display ad retargeting with multiple offers. To drive click-throughs, you need to create a sense of urgency with your ads without sounding like spam. Adobe’s display ads for Creative Suite are the perfect examples. The ads use compelling visuals to draw on what Adobe is already best known for – amazing photographs via Photoshop – and then add simple CTAs with limited time offers. The blue “Join Now” or “Get Started” buttons visually contrast with the darker backgrounds, subtly drawing attention to the CTA without being in your face about it.

Focus on One Offer at a Time, A/B Test for the Most Effective Message

Businesses like Amazon and eBay offer a host of services and products. But their ads are completely streamlined. They never cram too much information into one display ad. But just because you’re making one offer at a time doesn’t mean that you can’t have multiple ad iterations. Check out what Amazon Prime did with the company’s Prime Video display ads. While the text is the same in each of these four ads, they vary design elements (background color, CTA button color) for A/B testing. Changing too many elements between ads can make it difficult to determine which element truly is responsible for the boost (or fall) in clicks. By focusing on one offer at a time and only varying background color and button color, Amazon is better able to determine which subtle design difference have the biggest impact on click through rates.

Design Ads Specifically for Retargeting

Users who are retargeted are 70 percent more likely to convert, reports Digital Information World. To maximize the effectiveness of your retargeting ads, align design with strategy: what does the user need to convert? For Asana, this meant building greater awareness around the app’s benefits, reports Bannersnack. For Marin Software, their goal is a bit different: rather than promoting benefits, they promote reports with information that’s relevant and timely for their audience. For Moz, the strategy is even simpler: try Moz Pro for free. All three of these strategies have been effective because the companies understood what prospective users needed to see to convert. Don’t assume what works for Company A will also work for your business. Learn what moves the needle for your users and align your ad messages accordingly.

Bottom Line

Display ads are most effective when great design aligns with brand strategy and user needs. Understand what makes your users click on an ad: is it a sense of urgency to sign up for a trial offer? Is it out of curiosity to learn more about a new product or service? By getting back to basics, you can maximize the impact of your display ads.

Displeased Photo via Shutterstock

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Brian Hughes Brian is a seasoned digital marketing expert who loves to write about subjects that help small businesses grow their brands and increase their rankings online. He accomplishes this through his agency Integrity Marketing & Consulting, which he founded in 2011.

3 Reactions
  1. My advice: don’t let the image distract from the CTA (unless it’s a branding campaign, then it shouldn’t distract from the branding). The point is to get people to click, not think “That’s a cool picture.”

  2. It also helps to study the aesthetic of the recent ads that are working. This way, you’ll know how to position your ad.

  3. Thanks for mentioning my blog post on Bannersnack. I also believe that when you create a visual ad you need to keep focus on simplicity but also never forget for who you design the ad – your audience.
    Great job with the article Brian:)