How We Should Be Thinking About Display Advertising - Part One

In interactive advertising, display ads provide opportunities for highly effective campaigns by providing the widest possible messaging net and, with the right approach, intriguing, smart, and instantly engaging micro-experiences.  But with so many limitations inherent in display advertising, how can we successfully communicate client messaging, make consumers feel, and drive deeper brand engagements?  Let us start by reviewing our challenges.

Display ads still have very strict file size limitations.  In most cases we are looking at about 30K - which is smaller than those grainy photos we took on our Razr's back in 2005.  And to make things a little tougher, a large number of publishers have restrictions on the maximum length of your animation, and on how many times that animation can loop.

In addition to the technical challenges with display, there are also serious social and experiential obstacles to overcome. From a site user experience perspective, most banners live in a "gutter" - a special area of a webpage where trash collects that has nothing to do with the content you are trying to consume.  This perception is partially brought on by the way information on the site has been designed, "ads around meat," and by the bad company your nonintrusive and authentic banner keeps: annoying blinking "winner" and "sock the monkey" ads, irrelevant or misplaced contextual advertising, and bottom of the barrel machine generated ads from massive ad networks just trying to occupy inventory. 

The lack of trust from the gutter makes it very difficult to connect with consumers, emotionally or logically, or build any brand equity.  This has created an environment where clients, publishers, agency, and media partners jump with glee and brand a campaign a success when 99.85% of people who saw your ad, chose to completely ignore it.  Those are pretty low standards if you ask me, and I think with the right message, the right creative, and the right placement we can be doing better than that.

The basic function of a banner is to get noticed in a page full of content that consumers have asked to see (searched for, followed a link for, went directly to as part of their daily routine), and convince those consumers that with one magic click, they could be someplace better.  To successfully promise better information or entertainment, we need to make sure that we are as relevant and specific as possible to the consumer's needs.  Make sure the creative sets up a tangible anticipated reciprocity - and that the site the banner drives to fulfills that anticipation.  Banners are a doorway into a brand experience, and if your site doesn't deliver immediately on what the banner promises, the experience will be negative, and that consumer may never choose to engage with your brand again.

We have to make sure that we are intriguing consumers, not distracting and annoying them.   Attract attention through the use of contrast.  Research the placements and choose colors and fonts for your ads that will help them to stand out on the site.  Make sure your copy is bold and clear.  Use large fonts, and don't over load your banners with too much copy.  Use motion to draw in their eyes, but make sure that your use of motion ties in logically to the message you're telling in the ad - or you'll risk turning off potential consumers.  Make sure that at no point are you compromising your perceived legitimacy. 

These tactics are the first steps to make your display ads into diamonds in the rough, ads that will rise above the muck of the gutter and communicate with your consumers in a way that leaves them feeling good about your brand.  Next month we will cover some specific technologies and tactics you can use to improve the effectiveness of your display ads.