It’s time to make online ads good again; the industry depends on it

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What factors play into the quality of a digital ad? How can marketers consistently deliver content that meets today’s standards for good advertising? 

Since the dawn of online advertising (somewhere around 1993), marketers have been asking themselves what makes a good ad good. It might be attention grabbing design or a strong call to action. Then again, it could just as easily be its relevance to the viewer, or its placement on the desktop or mobile site page.

The question of what makes an ad great is, by and large, rhetorical. Despite attempts, marketers can’t quite agree on a definition. “Good” is relative. It depends on everything from audience to context and campaign goals.

And then there’s the issue of ad blocking, an increasingly contentious concern that many believe threatens the industry at large. The ad blocking conversation seems to imply that all digital ads are intrusive, obnoxious, and reviled. Not so. Good ads do exist. Consumers know one when they see one. Marketers do, too.

Let’s look at what sets these good ads apart and how this year, you can make yours even better.

A good ad is relevant

“An effective ad is what readers want to see and what advertisers want to provide,” says Ryan Schroeder, managing director and partner of digital design agency Fell Swoop.

The Seattle-based agency recently polled a group of “savvy content consumers” and discovered that, contrary to assumptions, they don’t universally dislike online ads.

Fell Swoop learned that in order to drive brand lift, sign-ups, or sales, ads must invariably match context with consumer intent.

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“One example of effective ads, according to our users, are in-line Facebook ads as they are well targeted. Another type of ad that users deemed effective is an ad for events near that user,” Schroeder says.

Schroeder points to a user named Sarah, one of many who values location relevance. “Give me something that is going on locally,” Sarah told Fell Swoop. “I like that because it’s actually giving me an idea of something I would like to spend my money on.”

The extent to which an ad is useful to the viewer plays a big role in how they feel about it – and the brand behind it.

Enter ad targeting technology, which is expressly designed to boost relevance. Brands know that retargeted ads can turn browsers into buyers. For example, an ad for a wall sconce that appears on Facebook after the consumer searched Google for lighting fixtures.

Though the system isn’t perfect, many consumers have found these types of ads useful. “The binding element is that they genuinely do add to the user experience and increase the value of the content in question,” Schroeder says.

A good ad features quality content

Whether it’s long-form content or short-form video, brands must invest in quality, as this is chiefly what differentiates the “good” ads from the poor. That said, quality video isn’t necessarily synonymous with high production value.

“When was the last time you saw a viral video that met movie theater standards?” asks Tony Rindsberg, chief marketing officer of social media management company SOCi. “There is a time and place for beautiful quality videos – your company’s demo, for example – but the vast majority of successful Internet videos were simply shot on a smartphone.”

Between live streaming video on Periscope and Meerkat and user-generated social influencer content, this is increasingly the case. “Focus on the content quality of your videos. If that fundamental component is good, the production quality won’t even matter,” Rindsberg says.

Additionally, when you’re producing native ads, spend a little extra to enlist the help of professional journalists and editors rather than falling back on your in-house marketing team. These content development veterans are equipped to turn your brand story into a compelling narrative – and ensure that it doesn’t get lost in the content clutter.

A good ad is mobile

Not all mobile ads are good, and not all good ads are mobile. But, given the amount of time consumers spend on their smartphones and tablets, mobile as a channel is critical to advertising success.

Rajeev Goel, chief executive of PubMatic, is seeing more advertisers recognize the importance of mobile ad quality, which in many ways is determined by placement. The company’s Q4 2015 Quarterly Mobile Index Report found that brand advertisers are spending more on mobile programmatic. In the weeks leading up to Black Friday, for instance, they turned to mobile private marketplaces (PMPs) to target high-value users.

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Goel expects marketers to employ PMPs for major shopping events in 2016 as well.

“Many advertisers are moving toward PMPs due to better buying transparency and the availability of premium inventory,” he says, “particularly during events that trigger ad spending spikes such as the presidential election, the Super Bowl, March Madness, or the Olympic Games.”

A shift toward premium inventory and creating high-quality mobile experiences, he adds, will pilot marketers through the year to come.

Goods ads are needed now

“People aren’t against (ads). They just hate that there are so many out there that insult their intelligence, assault their senses, and show up in the wrong place,” Schroeder says.

Alarmist as it may sound, the future of online advertising may depend on the speed with which marketers switch to well designed, relevant, and non-invasive ads. Users won’t appreciate digital advertising’s potential to enhance their web experience – and leave ad blockers behind – unless they do.

Let’s make this a good year for good online ads. Consumers have waited long enough.

Homepage and article images via Flickr.

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