Display Advertising: Design Can Make It or Break It

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By Jordan Bell, Marketing Manager at Advertise.com

They say a picture is worth a thousand words—but are they the right words? When choosing images for your display ads, many marketers use a “draw from the bank” approach, simply plugging in materials from their brand’s existing portfolio. Or sometimes, doing a quick search for cheap or free images off Google and throwing some copy over it.

So is there anything wrong with this approach?

Well, let’s start with some facts. Marketers in the U.S. spent nearly $15 billion on display ads in 2012 according to an eMarketer report, and looking forward, the firm expects that figure to jump to nearly $18 billion. In addition, the culture of online advertising at large is gravitating toward a highly image-centric paradigm across nearly all platforms, with 67 percent of consumers saying that the quality of product images is a “very important” part of the purchasing process.

Display Standards On the Rise

So we know that display ads—relative to other forms of online advertising such as pay per click text ads—continue to be a flagship awareness tool for most brands online. But as display advertising technology continues to advance, those brands are competing for advertising real estate that represents a smaller and smaller piece of the pie: the attention of your target audience. And that means as time goes on, it takes better quality display ads to succeed on popular websites.

At Advertise.com, we offer a range of powerful solutions for online display advertising, and many of our best clients are tapping into new and interactive display technologies that set them apart from their competition. But no matter how effective our delivery methods get, we still see some advertisers make the mistake of not designing quality ads for their display campaigns. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter how good your network is—you just won’t achieve the ROI you’re looking for.

Elements of Effective Display Ads

Then what goes into designing the most noticeable and compelling display ads? Whether you’re designing all your image collateral from scratch in house, or using only stock images, it all starts with the raw materials and how you use them. So when it comes to online ad design, here are some of our favorite “best practices” we’ve collected from experts and clients across the industry.

  • Catch the Eye: It’s crucial to display an ad that grabs your audience’s attention, so make sure that your images are unique, interesting, or simply “pop” off the page. Of course, don’t go crazy and display images that are offensive/misleading. But for every image you do select or design, ask yourself: “Would this get my attention if I weren’t already looking for it?”
  • Focus: What part of the image is your audience looking at? If you are using a photo, make sure that the main subject of the image doesn’t get lost in the background. If you are using stock photos, consider using one where the focus is clear on the object that represents the message you’re trying to deliver… or edit it accordingly. And don’t forget, you also need room to capture attention with your ad copy!
  • Complement/Contrast: If you are just advertising on an individual site you will have the opportunity to choose images with colors that stand out on the hosting site. However, in most cases you’ll be best suited to work with a larger network like Advertise.com, so you’ll want to consider how your ad can look on numerous styles of websites. Select colors that contrast in the ad when you want to call out certain element, such as a click button or a special offer. In doing so, it’s important to make your contrasting colors complement each other. For instance, if you are using an image with light, pastel shades, you wouldn’t put heavy neon backgrounds behind it… that could be hideous! In this case, you might try select a complementary pastel color or muted shade that helps the image stand out from the background, but is still in the color theme of the ad.
  • Brand Consistency: While the images in your display ad should be noticeable and interesting, it should also be somewhat consistent with your brand. What if the person who sees your ad doesn’t click? Will they remember what brand it belonged to when they have left that website? Having a logo in each of your ads can help, but creating long-term brand consistency through advertising can also mean using relatively consistent design elements that will trigger memories of previous brand engagements.
  • White Space: There is always opportunity to do “more with less.” Not every pixel needs to be filled with your visual collateral, and often doing so can take the focus off of your key selling points. White space can be a great way to simplify your messaging and make your call to action really stand out.
  • Style: Different styles of the same text can elicit a variety of responses just as the inflections in our voices do when we speak. So not only is what you write important, but how you display it. Really put some thought into how the font, size, color, and style of the text you use integrates seamlessly and “fits” with the design elements of the ad.
  • Video: While many companies are still stuck on using static images in their banner ads, consider integrating video into your display banners to really draw the eye and engage your users. In-Banner Videos, like the ones offered by Advertise.com, can easily make your ads the most noticeable banners on the page. Unlike Flash, which is an engaging format but has major device limitations, In-Banner Videos can play on all devices including tablets and smartphones.

Feel free to send us examples of your display ads if you’d like feedback on your design. We’re always interested in seeing what kind of displays you’re running!

As a top-ranked network, Advertise.com provides competitive online advertising and web monetization solutions for companies large and small. Contact us to learn more!