Inside Marketing

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Why does display advertising get such a bad rap?

Digital advertising has been around for over 25 years, since the dawn of mainstream internet use. A humble display banner ad is said to have been the first digital advertisement ever. And thus, monetisation of online ad space was born and has evolved hugely, giving birth to search engine marketing, social media ads, video, affiliates and more.

But if display has been around the longest, why does it still get such a bad rap, and why hasn’t display evolved to be better, are two of the questions some ask. Many marketers think this. But should the real question be, why do we allow display advertising to be bad?

It’s easy to put blame on an entire advertising channel for the sins of a slew of advertisers and suppliers. However, display advertising has definitely evolved light years in technological advancement since the first small, unassuming square ad of text in 1994. I propose that maybe it’s not display advertising that hasn’t evolved, but that sometimes we, as an industry of marketers, haven’t been able to keep up.

The term ‘display advertising’ can at times include video, social media and in-app advertising. For today, let’s stick to the display format that people tend to misunderstand the most: classic banner ads. Two of the biggest challenges marketers hold against display are that they think ads aren’t seen, and they don’t deliver results. 

Display ads aren’t seen

Some argue that ads don’t even get shown and that too often, they appear below the fold of a page. Of course, it is true that sometimes an ad may load below the page fold and get missed. But this is the same as when someone doesn’t flip the page on your magazine ad, or leaves the room for a snack when your TV ad is shown. Media wastage exists in most channels to some degree. But the benefit of display advertising is the technology exists to only buy ad space that is actually viewable. 

Others argue their ads aren’t noticed even when on screen, but studies have shown that even peripheral ad views help increase brand recognition and keep a brand top of mind.

Display ads don’t deliver results

Some say they don’t see a return from their display advertising, but this completely depends on what results you’re trying to deliver. You need to have the right key performance indicators (KPIs) and technology in place to be able to track the role of display.

The opportunity for results driven by display ads spans the full marketing funnel across awareness, consideration and conversion. For each stage, KPIs need to be set up to match. For awareness, focus should be on high impact delivery, reach and high viewability. For consideration, focus on cost per visitor and traffic volume to your site, and for conversion, focus on cost per acquisition and sales volume. 

For many local and global clients that I’ve deep dived into, Display actually assists in 50-80 per cent of total paid sales, and those are results not to be sneezed at.

Benefits of display advertising

There are many benefits to display advertising over other channels, but one of the biggest ones is reach. By buying display through the open exchange, you’re able to reach over 95 per cent of internet users including consumers who don’t use social media or may rarely, if ever, use search engines. If looking to identify and reach brand new prospects, as a starting point, display is a great channel to expand your upper funnel.

If running your own campaigns, you have control over budget spend and can stop at any time. Instead of just buying ad space on specific sites, you can go so far as to only buy audiences across the open exchange with specific demographics, behaviours and intent to purchase that are most relevant to your brand and products.

You can automatically set bids for ad space based on what is most likely to deliver the greatest return on your investment to audiences and placements, whether that is viewability or cost per action. Over time with the aid of machine learning, your campaign only continues to get smarter, buy better and deliver greater results. 

With great marketing power comes great responsibility. The greater the opportunity for results, the greater and more complex a tech stack is needed to manage safe delivery, creative optimisation, and more. 

How to buy display well

There are many considerations for running a quality campaign focused on driving full-funnel results. 
Ad verification tools or buying platform control settings can help with brand safety to block ads from appearing on non-brand safe sites or next to certain types of content. They can also report back and limit delivering to fake users and optimise for viewability to limit wastage.

Use ad formats that best meet your campaign goals. These may include home page takeovers, larger formats and expandable ad units. Ad creative should include focused messaging and clear calls-to-action that match the stage of the purchase funnel the consumer is in. 

Eye catching imagery, background colours, animations and transitions help to increase attention and dwell time. Text should be short and easy to read with fonts properly sized and tailored to the device the ad will be shown on. Building out dynamic creative that serves more personalised messaging on a much greater scale can also deliver dramatic improvements in engagement.

If looking to drive towards action on your own site, make sure the on-site experience is optimal for mobile because if it’s not, your investment may be better suited to only targeting desktop until your site has been improved. 

Test a mix of and optimise your budget allocations towards best performing audience targeting strategies including third party audiences, contextual targeting, look-a-like audiences of your current customers and remarket to consumers who have been to your site but haven’t completed their purchase. Using your first party consumer data – as long as it is GDPR compliant – can also amplify the effect of these strategies.

For optimal results, take advantage of machine learning and set your bidding rules to optimise towards desired goals such as viewability, website visits or sales.Be sure to cap your frequency so you don’t annoy your current or potential customers.

Take an omnichannel planning approach. Display shouldn’t be a standalone tactic and works best when you’ve got a core strategy of channels in place, including search and social all working together. This creates a consistent and multi-touch journey that better increases awareness and pushes consumers through the purchase funnel. 

Display is rarely the best last click channel before a sale. Someone searching for your brand tends to be the last step, so in order to understand the effect of multiple touch points along a path to purchase, post-impression and multi-channel attribution is a must.

Display not as scary as it seems

It’s not that display has never evolved since its inception 25 years ago. It has actually evolved so much that at the highest level of implementation, display is probably the most advanced channel with tech solutions available.

Like many things, your display campaigns will be bad if you let them be. It’s just much easier to get display wrong if you are not dedicating the proper planning, implementation time and investment in it. 

Chris Brennan is business director of iProspect Ireland

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