written by
Carsten Pleiser

What is display advertising? (the dos and don'ts of banner ad design)

Marketing Design 5 min read

These days, it’s pretty uncommon to visit a webpage that doesn’t include some form of display advertising. (So long as you don’t have an ad blocker, that is!)

Google’s Display Ad Network reaches a huge 90% of global internet users. The average internet user is hit with over 1,700 banner ads per month, but research shows they only register half of these.

Unless you want half your advertising budget going straight down the drain, that means it’s time to really step up your display advertising game.

So exactly what is display advertising?

Display advertising is the ads that appear on third-party websites or apps, usually at the top or along the side of a page. Display ads are completely driven by visuals, with an aim to attract attention, raise brand awareness, and drive click-throughs.

what is display advertising

They can incorporate text, images, video, flash animation, and audio to grab users’ attention. Just like the majority of other online marketing, display advertising can be targeted to specific audience traits and demographics.

Display ads aren’t as intrusive or annoying as traditional advertising, especially when targeted to a relevant audience. They help you send your brand name and message out to a huge group of people for a relatively small fee, without shoving an advertisement down users’ throats.

There are different types of display advertising

To answer the question of ‘what is display advertising’ fully, you’ve gotta understand the difference between all of the different types of display ads.

Banner Ads

These are definitely the oldest and most “traditional” forms of display ads, dating back to the internet of the ‘90s. The first-ever banner ad had a massive 44% click-through rate, probably thanks to its clickbait-y text: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? YOU WILL.”

Banner ads usually appear at the top of a website, in a—you guessed it—banner format. These days they’re more reliant on images and text, usually static, to get the point across.

Rich Media

These are a step above your stock-standard banner image. Rich media ads are display ads that include features like video, audio, expansion or polling. They take a little more work to design, but definitely offer a more engaging experience, catching the eye of scrollers who may normally ignore a banner ad.

Interstitial ads

Interstitial ads are a little more in-your-face than the previous types of display adverts. These are full-screen mobile ads that pop up in a host app. They’re pretty common in gaming apps, where an unskippable full-screen ad will pop up after a user completes each level. Some users may pay a one-time fee to remove interstitial ads from their platform experience.

These ads are the leading way for mobile gaming companies to monetize their free apps.

Video ads

Video advertising and editorial had a massive boom in the last decade, and it looks like it’s here for good. YouTube is the second-largest search engine behind Google, with more than 2 billion logged-in monthly users.

While video ads can be placed anywhere on the web, YouTube is by far the most popular choice for marketers. The key here is to keep it engaging and prevent watchers from hitting that ‘Skip Ad’ button.

Pros and Cons of display advertising

Of course, just like every other aspect of marketing, display advertising isn’t always perfect. It’s all about weighing up the pros and cons, and making an informed decision for your brand.

PROS

Display Advertising Pro #1 – Diversity

As you can see, there are a ton of different options for any brand that wants to try out display ads. From banners to videos and beyond, you can experiment with different styles until you find one that sticks.

Display Advertising Pro #2 – Reach and targeting

When using Google Ads to create and execute a display ad campaign, you have access to literally millions of host sites for ad placement. You can also choose certain parameters for your target audience and only send out the ads to relevant users.

Display Advertising Pro #3 – Stats

Display ads are very measurable, again through Google Ads. Track clicks, impressions, and conversion rates to make sure that your ad is working—and if not, you can try something else!

Display Advertising Pro #4 – It’s clearly an ad

Unlike native advertising, display ads aren’t masquerading as anything else. Sure, that means some people might automatically ignore them, but it can also lead to better brand awareness overall. Users see your ad and instantly recognise the message you’re sending them.

CONS

Display Advertising Con #1 – Low CTR

Compared to other types of ads, display ads tend to have a much lower click-through rate. This could be because users are simply becoming immune to display ads, developing blindness to them. Sometimes native advertising (which doesn’t look like an ad) can perform better.

Display Advertising Con #2 – Ad blockers

In 2019, 47% of internet users globally used an ad-blocker. If users install ad-blocking software on their phones or browsers, it’s pretty likely they’ll never see your ad. That’s nothing but a huge waste of money.

Display Advertising Con #3 – Minimal space

With a display ad, you have a very small window of time, and a very small area of space, to get your point across. Depending on your company and the purpose of your ad, long-form content may be a better option.

What to look out for when producing display ads

Obviously, every ad is going to look different, depending on your brand, your audience, and your goal. But there are definitely a few things to keep in mind when designing banner ads:

  • Keep it simple. Banner ads that are overcrowded with text, animation, or sound can be instantly off-putting. Limit yourself to two or three colours, keep it clutter-free, and make sure your font is legible.
  • Use catchy copy. You have one chance to catch someone’s eye, so don’t waste your shot with a long and rambling sentence. Words like ‘now’ and ‘need’ create a sense of urgency.
  • Include a call-to-action button. While users can click anywhere on the display ad to interact with it, our brains are wired to recognise action buttons. Include a button-like shape in your design, with text like ‘get started’ or ‘try it free’.

While it can sometimes be a tricky beast to navigate, display advertising is definitely a strategy that should be explored by brands and companies across all industries. As we’ve seen, it’s a very malleable format that can be tailored to your brand and audience, to help you make as much of a splash as possible!

Want to answer more questions like ‘what is display advertising? Working on an online marketing plan? Check out our digital ads and marketing design hub for more tutorials and information!

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