Ad Format Combinations That Win the Day

Every chef has her favorite knife. Every writer has his favorite character. And every interactive media buyer has her favorite online ad format.

As with other vocations’ tools, media buyers’ preferred formats have likely alternated over the years. Industry conditions and trends called for upgraded and updated means. New challenges required a different approach. But as sure as you’ll get perfectly chiffonaded basil on the pizza at your favorite Italian restaurant or encounter the elusive “Skink” in future Carl Hiaasen books, you’ll return time and again to the inspirational instrument that got you started.

In the beginning, my instrument of choice was the plain old square button. It may be unremarkable, but it was the first online buy I ever made. It’s gotten me far. I used the little guy to stretch branding budgets and appease clients when in-demand inventory on popular site pages was sold out. I employed both the static and animated variety as publishers and creative concepts demanded and took it from portals to ad networks, email, and beyond.

Since those days, the button has fallen out of favor with other advertisers. They prefer larger, more prominent formats, which studies have shown to be more effective. But in the early, uncluttered days of online advertising, the button was my go-to staple.

As much as I’d like to continue to base entire campaigns on the button, I know it no longer makes sense. In the company of other units, it can still be very effective. It needs those supporting players to prove its worth today. That’s the case with most online formats, new and old. With the right combination of size and shape, motionlessness and animation, display and text, you can play favorites and still end up with a well-rounded campaign.

Ad Network Banners and Paid Search

This twosome packs a powerful campaign punch. The combination of brand-boosting display advertising and traffic-generating search ads gives buyers the best of both worlds and ensures they stay on budget. Like search ads, which are paid for based on their performance, banners on an ad networks are a cost-effective alternative to ads on brand-name portals or specialty sites. That they aren’t always as targeted is offset by über-targeted paid search ads, which only appear to consumers who actively search for information on your product or service.

Expandable Banners and Sponsored Links

Expandable banners are designed to contain a host of information and behave as banner-sized microsites. They can fulfill the educational aspect of ad creative on their own. Advertisers can then cut costs with inexpensive text-only sponsored links placements on additional sites. These barebones formats, which deliver a succinct ad message, will take care of the site visit, signup, or contest entry component of your campaign by appealing to consumers who are already sold on your product. In-depth expandable banners, meanwhile, serve to inform and convert those who may still be on the fence.

Video Ads and Static Buttons

One of the few drawbacks of online video (apart from those units that incorporate interactivity) is they don’t do much to solicit an immediate response. That’s largely why video is primarily used in branding campaigns. Eliciting an action is where the static button shines. Place one next to an in-stream video clip, and you’ve got a complete online advertising package.

If video is the movie trailer that gets your consumers’ attention, the static button is the ticket window at which they can purchase entry to the show. Internet users enticed by your video are familiar enough with the mainstay button format that they’ll know to click through to your site to learn more or complete the transaction the video promotes. And because button clicks are easily measurable, these formats can deliver additional information about the video ad’s effectiveness in generating a consumer response.

Like that chef’s knife or famed fictional character, most favorite formats never really go out of style. What’s yours and how have you continued to use it? Send me an email with your thoughts.

Meet Tessa at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 5-8, 2005.

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